The Solar Impulse 2 – powered only by solar power- has set a new world record for the longest solo flight and the longest solar-powered flight, after almost 5 days of flying. The plane took off from Japan on Monday June 29, 2015, flew across the Pacific and plans to land in Hawaii either late Thursday night or Early Friday morning.
Andre Borschberg, the solo pilot onboard Solar Impulse 2, will be flying the zero-fuel plane for more than 5,000 miles. Although this is not the first time the Solar Impulse 2 is flying. In fact, the plane is on it’s eighth leg of the mission around the globe, which will total 13 trips altogether. Borschberg has been alternating flying the plane with another pilot, Bertrand Piccard, due to the plane only being big enough for one pilot and actual sleep being impossible.
Borschberg’s only option for rest is short 20-minute naps, to which he said, “The first 24 hours were very technical, but the second day was really getting me into the mission. It took me a while to create a relationship of trust with the airplane, which allows me to rest and eventually sleep by periods of 20 minutes with the autopilot.”
The record-breaking mission began back in March, but came to a halt in June when the plane got delayed in Japan for about a month due to weather conditions and the need for repairs. The weather is carefully monitored by expert meteorologists since the Solar Impulse 2 cannot fly in bad weather. According to the Solar Impulse website, “If the plane encounters turbulences stronger than the aircraft can handle, or is struck by lightning and runs into a thunderstorm, it would be destroyed.” Their website also stated the while the plane can do an emergency landing on land, if it were to try and enter water, there is the potential for the pilot to be electrocuted – meaning the pilot’s only option is to bail out. In case of a bail out, the plane is equipped with a survival kit that contains a parachute and a life raft to use until help can arrive. As for the design, the Solar Impulse 2 has many systems that are duplicated and according to their website, “if one were to fail, another would take over.”
Yet overall, the mission seems to be a success and although breaking records is always a big accomplishment, a solar-powered plane may be one step closer towards a greener, cleaner future. What do you think, will solar-powered planes ever become available for commercial travel?
You can watch the Solar Impulse 2 taking off for the first time in the video below.
Article Written by Mila Medonaite for Design Engine, July 2, 2015