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Solar Plane Prepares for Global Circumnavigation

  • George Putic

Pilots of the sun-powered plane Solar Impulse 2 completed two successful test flights Thursday in the United Arab Emirates, in preparation for the first attempt to fly around the world. Officials say the plane performed flawlessly and that, weather permitting, it may start its journey as soon as March 3.

A test pilot took Solar Impulse 2 on its first flight, which lasted four hours. Then, project co-founder Andre Borschberg took off and stayed in the air for a full day.

These test flights are crucial because flying a four-engine plane powered only by sunlight, which charges its batteries at a cruising speed between 50 and 100 kilometers an hour, requires a lot of special skills

Solar Impulse 2 is a single-seater so Borschberg and his co-founder and fellow pilot, Bertrand Piccard, will take turns during 25 flying days stretched over five months.

But both men are determined to show the world that sustainable energy sources are ready for everyday use.

“To fly with a solar airplane [you] need an airplane which is extremely energy efficient and we have technologies which you could use in your home, that people could use in ground transportation and that's what we want to show around the world,” said Borschberg.

In order to be efficient, the plane must be light so pilots sacrificed not only cockpit space but pressurization. They had to practice yoga and self-hypnosis to endure long periods with little sleep, such as the five-day non-stop flight over the Pacific.

Pilot Bertrand Piccard, who also was the first to circumnavigate the world in a hot air balloon, is a clean-energy enthusiast, as well.

“We want to show that clean technologies and renewable energies can achieve the impossible, like flying day and night in an airplane with no fuel, and this is the way to encourage governments and societies and corporations to reduce their energy consumption to be more energy efficient like we are,” said Piccard.

Solar Impulse 2 will be followed by a team of 80 dedicated technicians making sure that it performs without flaws until it returns to Abu Dhabi by early August.

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