The Solar Impulse 2, a completely solar-powered airplane which carries no fuel, has just finished its Pacific leg in three days. A remarkable feat for the revolutionary aircraft. The pilot of Solar Impulse 2, Bertrand Piccard, flew the 62-hour trip over the Pacific and landed just south of San Francisco in the Silicon Valley. At 11:45 p.m. last night, the Solar Impulse 2 landed safely and taxied into a large tent at Moffett Airfield.
Once he was out of the aircraft, the pilot of the Solar Impulse 2 reflected on the longest and most dangerous leg of the experimental aircraft’s round the world attempt, because the Pacific leg had no opportunities for an emergency landing site.
“You know there was a moment in the night, I was watching the reflection of the moon on the ocean and I was thinking ‘I’m completely alone in this tiny cockpit and I feel completely confident.’ And I was really thankful to life for bringing me this experience. It’s maybe this is one of the most fantastic experiences of life I’ve had.”
Captain Piccard hasn’t been the only pilot flying the Solar Impulse 2 on its round the world trek. Another pilot from Switzerland, Andre Borschberg, has been alternating pilot duties of the Solar Impulse 2. The experimental aircraft departed from the capital of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi, in March of last year. The Solar Impulse 2 made stops in Oman, Myanmar, China, Japan, and Hawaii.
Even though the Pacific leg of the voyage of the Solar Impulse 2 went smoothly, that hasn’t been the case on the entire trip. After leaving Nanjing, China, the experimental aircraft had to divert to Japan due to a damaged wing combined with bad weather. After leaving Japan, the Solar Impulse 2 sustained damage to its battery system from heat damage and required repair in Hawaii in July.
If it seems like the round the world voyage of the Solar Impulse 2 is taking quite a while, you wouldn’t be wrong. The plane’s average speed is right around 28 miles per hour, though it can fly close to 50 miles per hour during the day, when the sun’s rays are strongest. The plane is relatively light, weighing only about 5,000 pounds, and yet its wingspan is immense, stretching out wider than that of a Boeing 747. Each wing of the Solar Impulse 2 is lined with over 17,000 solar cells that powers the aircraft, and supplies its batteries with power so that it can operate at night.
The Solar Impulse project is privately funded by a number of companies, as well as receiving a $6.5 million grant from the Swiss government, where the entire project is based. The project started in 2003, and since then it has cost nearly $200 million.
The first aircraft created by the project, the Solar Impulse 1, took its first flight in 2009, and only flew for about 350 meters. After several technological changes and improvements, the Solar Impulse 1 took another flight in 2010. This flight lasted over 87 minutes, and the aircraft reached an altitude of 1,200 feet. Later in 2010, the Solar Impulse 1 achieved its first overnight, manned, completely solar powered flight. The plane flew for over 26 hours and reached an altitude of 3,900 feet.
In 2012, the Solar Impulse made its first intercontinental flight from Spain to Morocco. In 2013, it made its first flight across the United States, making several stops along the way.
The first worldwide flight of the Solar Impulse 2 was scheduled to start in 2012, as well, but problems with the design of the aircraft delayed the launch of the voyage until 2015. The pilots actually take 20 minute naps on their flights that average around five days at a stretch. The Solar Impulse 2 isn’t on a fixed schedule to conclude its round the world trip, but the designers are hoping it will return to Abu Dhabi by the end of 2016 or early next year.
[Image via Solar Impulse]