Plane’s 5-day, zero-fuel flight means a lot for green tech

1 Jun 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Around the world in 80 rays… solar plane begins six-day flight: Aircraft begins most dangerous leg of its journey as it attempts to cross the Pacific.

This is the latest — and longest — leg of a trip that started two months ago. THE revolutionary Solar Impulse 2 aircraft took off early for a six-day, six-night flight over the Pacific Ocean, the most ambitious leg of its quest to circumnavigate the globe powered only by the sun. Pilot Andre Borschberg, 62, left the ground in Nanjing, in eastern China, heading for the US island of Hawaii, on Sunday morning, after extended delays awaiting a suitable weather window over safety concerns. “We have a good weather window, which means we have a stable corridor to reach Hawaii,” he said, shortly before climbing into the cockpit to test the instruments.

Borschberg, whose progress will be monitored the entire way from a control room in Monaco, will try to stay awake for much of that time, taking only short catnaps. Well-wishers shouted ‘We love you’ as the plane took off in the darkness and soared almost silently, but for a whirring sound, into the sky on a journey that will push both pilot and machine to the limits of endurance. Mr Borschberg and another pilot, Bertrand Piccard, 57, have been taking turns flying the single-seater, propeller-driven plane during a 12-leg, five-month journey to promote renewable energy use. After more than eight hours in the air, the plane was over the East China Sea and Borschberg could be heard discussing light turbulence along the upcoming journey with the Solar Impulse team. The multi-million-pound aircraft, funded by large corporate sponsors such as Google and Omega, is powered by 17,000 solar cells on wings larger than those of a Boeing 747 jet.

The plane is the successor of Solar Impulse, which notched up a 26-hour flight in 2010, proving its ability to store enough power in lithium batteries during the day to keep flying at night. The pilots, who are both Swiss, trained hard for the mission, during which they have faced temperatures dropping to -40C (-40F) in their cramped cockpit and have had to breathe oxygen from a tank to cope with the extreme altitudes. It’s got a top speed of a little more than 86 miles per hour, is a really lightweight at just over 5,000 pounds and still has a wingspan greater the Boeing 747. Before taking off yesterday on the seventh and latest leg, Mr Borschberg said that if successful, the flight to Hawaii will demonstrate the credibility of the vision he and Mr Piccard though up 16 years ago ‘to change our mindset regarding the enormous potential of clean technologies and renewable energies’.

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