Solar Plane On Second-To-Last Leg Of Globe-Circling Voyage, Leaves Spain For Egypt

The solar plane, manned by pilots Andre Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard, has left Spain for Egypt in the second-to-last leg of its globe-circling voyage. The Solar Impulse 2 flew out of Seville airport on Monday, July 11, 2016, and is Cairo-bound, for the near-completion of a trip from the United Arab Emirates in March of 2015, the starting point and final destination.

According to CBC, the solar-powered plane piloted by Swiss psychiatrist Bertrand Piccard, 58, arrived in Seville on June 23 after an unprecedented three-day flight across the Atlantic. With the two men taking turns at the controls, the Seville-to-Cairo stretch is piloted by Swiss businessman Andre Borschberg, 63, and is expected to go 50 hours and 30 minutes.

The Solar Impulse 2 relies on wings that stretch wider than those of a Boeing 747, and are equipped with 17,000 solar cells that power the propellers and charge up the batteries. An Inquisitr report points out that the carbon-fiber aircraft’s weight of more than 5,000 pounds makes the ideal flight speed about 28 miles per hour. However, at that weight, the plane is capable of going twice as fast during the day when the sun’s rays are intense. Nighttime flight relies on stored energy.

Solar flight pioneers Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg [Photo by Handout/Getty Images]
During the first half of its journey, Impulse 2 left Abu Dhabi (UAE) on March 9, 2015, for a 13-hour stretch to Muscat (Oman). The next stop was Ahmedabad (India), then Varanasi (India), then Mandalay (Myanmar), then Chongqing (China), then Nanjing (China), and then Nagoya (Japan). By the time the solar plane left Nagoya (Japan) on Jun 28, 2015, it was on leg eight of its journey bound for Kalaeloa, Hawaii (United States).

Solar Impulse 2 made it to Hawaii in July and stayed to repair some battery damage sustained during the trip from Japan. In the prior phase of the journey, the crew had to divert to Japan due to bad weather and a wing problem while trying to reach Hawaii from Nanjing, China. It took another month before weather conditions allowed the plane to leave Nagoya in central Japan for Hawaii.

Pilots Piccard and Borschberg left Hawaii after a forced nine-month winter layover due to a damaged battery and lack of sunlight. The solar-powered plane landed in Mountain View, California, on Saturday night, April 23, 2016, to complete the Pacific segment of its circumnavigation of the world. Their arrival in California came in less than three days, on depleted power.

Solar Impulse 2 dances with sunlight over Silicon Valley [Photo by Handout/Getty Images]
Leg 10 of the journey saw Impulse 2 departing Mountain View, California, on May 2, 2016, bound for Phoenix, Arizona. From Phoenix, the solar-powered aircraft hopped to Tulsa, Oklahoma, then to Dayton, Ohio, then to Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, and then to New York. On June 20, for leg 15 of the trip, the experimental plane made the long haul across the Atlantic from New York to Seville (Spain).

According to USA Today, the pilots are not only interested in setting aviation records, but also in raising climate change awareness by showcasing the vast potential of renewable energy. To this end, Piccard made the following remark in the first half of the solar plane’s Odyssey.

“The most important thing isn’t to make world records. It’s to show what we can do with clean technologies.”

According to BBC, the Seville-Cairo leg of the trip should take the zero-fuel aircraft somewhere between 48 and 72 hours, depending on the weather. After this leg, Abu Dhabi where the challenge began in March, 2015, completes the flight plan. While Borschberg runs the Seville-Cairo stage, Piccard will finesse the challenge by taking the solar plane back into the U.A.E.

Mission managers are counting on an Egypt landing in the morning when the winds and temperatures are most favorable. A precaution they hope the pilots observe is not to expose the solar cells to too much heat when the plane is stationary on the ground in Cairo.

As the long journey nears its completion, Borschberg is feeling the tug of powerful emotions. He made this statement before lifting the solar plane off Seville International Airport at 04:20 GMT.

“It’s meaningful obviously because it’s my last flight in this round-the-world epic. I’ve started to think about it. I’m happy that we get close to the end but also prudent knowing that it is not done yet. I have to stay really focused.”

This penultimate leg will involve having to negotiate busy air routes across seven countries. Another concern of both pilots is that their slow-moving solar plane will fly over a number of military operations in the Mediterranean and North African region.

From Bertrand Piccard’s perspective, going to Egypt is an important milestone for the project he founded. Egypt brings back memories of his landing there 17-years ago in Breitling Orbiter 3, the first balloon to make a non-stop, round-the-world flight. Now he returns in a solar plane.

[Photo by Handout/Getty Images]

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