Solar Impulse takes off for six-day flight

31 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

For solar-powered plane, China-to-Hawaii flight is a test of skill and energy.

It took longer than expected to find the right weather, but a Swiss pilot is now airborne attempting something never attempted before — flying a plane across the Pacific with no fuel, only solar power.The Solar Impulse 2 plane took off early on Sunday 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 Hawaii, at about 2.40am , 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, then climbed into the cockpit to test the instruments.

After that, Solar Impulse co-founder Bertrand Piccard is slated to fly the plane to Phoenix, once he finds a “weather window” that long eluded the team in China. No ship will trail the plane as it is too fast for a maritime vessel to keep up with, even though its maximum speed of 87mph (140km/h) is much slower than a jet. In a previous interview, Borschberg described the challenges of the flying the plane, which has wings wider than those on a Boeing 747 but is lighter than a minivan. “It is difficult to fly, especially at the beginning,” said Borschberg, 62, a former fighter pilot with the Swiss air reserve.

Even so, with an engineer’s detachment, Borschberg has declined to contemplate his own mortality. “I don’t see it [as] risky, in the sense that we worked a long time on all these different questions,” he has previously said. Planners had identified airports in Japan should the plane need to make a stop because of technical problems, but the open ocean offered no such possibility, he said. Borschberg and another Swiss pilot, Bertrand Piccard, have been taking turns flying the single-seater Swiss plane during a five-month journey to promote renewable energy use. Before the Pacific flight, the crew stripped off two side wheels and internal brakes from the propellers to make the fragile-looking craft – at 2.3 tonnes, the weight of a large SUV – as light as possible.

He said that if successful, the flight to Hawaii will demonstrate the credibility of the vision he and Piccard embraced 16 years ago “to change our mindset regarding the enormous potential of clean technologies and renewable energies.” 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. Ridiculed by the aviation industry when it was first unveiled, the Solar Impulse venture has since been hailed around the world, including by UN chief Ban Ki-moon. “Now is the moment just to demonstrate what this airplane can do – fly day and night with no fuel,” said Bertrand Piccard, who has flown the Solar Impulse on other stages of the voyage.

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