ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates, March 10, 2015 (ENS) – Two Swiss pilots have begun the first-ever attempt to fly around the Earth in a plane powered only by the Sun.
André Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard are taking turns piloting the single seater Solar Impulse 2 for 21,747 miles (35,000km) over 12 legs, on a journey that includes five-day and six-day stretches across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
The entire journey is expected to take 25 days over the course of roughly five months.
Borschberg took off from Al-Bateen executive airport in Abu Dhabi Monday at 7:12 local time heading for Muscat, Oman. He landed in Muscat after a 12-hour flight.
Piccard took the controls in Oman and continued to Ahmedabad, India, where the aircraft landed safely late Tuesday, completing the second leg of its flight around the world.
The Solar Impulse team in Abu Dhabi, the project’s official host city, along with the Mission Control Center in Monaco, witnessed the first take-off of the Solar Impulse 2 after years of preparation.
It has taken 12 years for Piccard, the project’s initiator and chairman, and Borschberg, the founder and CEO, to be in a position to finally attempt to make their dream a reality.
Borschberg said the success of the Solar Impulse project, which has already become the first solar-powered plane to fly through the night and the first to fly between two continents, must be seen as a primitive step toward a zero-carbon jumbo plane.
On its around-the-world trip, Solar Impulse 2 will fly over the Arabian Sea, India, Myanmar, China and the Pacific Ocean.
After crossing the Atlantic Ocean, the final legs of the journey include a stop-over in Southern Europe or North Africa before completing the flight at its final destination in Abu Dhabi.
During the 12 scheduled stops, the Solar Impulse team and its partners will organize public events for governments, schools and universities.
The solar plane’s top speed is 87 miles per hour (140km/h), but the pilots will conserve their batteries by flying the plane at about half that speed.
The two pilots anticipate spending about 250 hours each inside the cockpit with no oxygen or temperature control, while outside temperatures will hit both -40C to 40C.
The cockpit is somewhat larger than the passenger cabin of a car and contains food, oxygen, life support systems. The pilot can sit or recline in a seat that also serves as a toilet.
The plane will fly both day and night powered only by 17,000 solar panels mounted on its fuselage and wings. A 633kg bank of lithium batteries, around a quarter of the plane’s weight, will store the energy to run the motors at night.
The Solar Impulse 2 project is supported by Prince Albert of Monaco, UAE Minister of State and Chairman of Masdar Dr. Sultan Al Jaber, Richard Branson and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore.
The #FutureIsClean initiative has been launched on www.solarimpulse.com to recruit financial support for the adoption of clean technologies worldwide.
The pilots say their purpose is to re-inspire practical solutions to the climate crisis.
“We are very ambitious in our goal, but modest given the magnitude of the challenge. This is an attempt, and only time will tell if we can overcome the numerous weather, technical, human and administrative issues,” said Piccard and Borschberg.