Solar plane faces most dangerous part of around-the-world flight

29 Jun 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Solar Impulse 2 en route to Hawaii from Japan (+video).

For folks who haven’t been following the around-the-world flight of the experimental Solar Impulse 2 since it began last March, this is probably the part where you’ll want to start paying attention.TOKYO — A solar-powered plane took off from Japan early Monday to attempt a five-day flight over open water to Hawaii, the eighth leg of its bid to fly around the world without fuel.

After weeks of weather delays, a lone pilot named Andre Borschberg is now strapped into a tiny cockpit while flying a fragile plane more than 5,000 miles (8,000 kilometers) from Japan to Hawaii. The plane had been grounded in Japan for three weeks due to bad weather over the Pacific, but just after 3am AEST Sunday, officials with the project emailed supporters to tell them the plane was preparing for takeoff. In the history of around-the-world flights, the Pacific has presented pitfalls for aviation pioneers — most infamously Amelia Earhart, who went missing in the central Pacific in July of 1937.

Soaring high above the water, Borschberg now faces hazards that could cripple his plane or even send it into the ocean, including turbulent winds and bad weather; mechanical malfunctions; and the pilot’s ability to remain alert and fly the plane. “In the event of an emergency jump over an ocean, the pilot has a parachute and an inflatable life raft, which he can activate at any time. Borschberg originally left Nanjing, China, for Hawaii on May 31, but diverted to an airport in Nagoya in central Japan on June 1 because a cold front threatened to block his way. He plans to take short naps, do yoga and meditate to endure the lack of extensive sleep. “It is the point of no return, not only for Solar Impulse as a flight and an airplane, it’s for the project.

The project is meant to demonstrate the potential of improved energy efficiency and clean power, though solar-powered air travel is not yet commercially practical. In preparation for this eventuality, the pilots received pre-flight training from specialists in sea rescue.” “If one of the 4 motors breaks down for example, the plane would operate with the other 3 remaining motors.

Studies, design and construction took 12 years and a first version of the craft rolled out in 2009 broke records for heights and distances travelled by a manned solar plane. If one were to fail, another would take over.” “If the plane encounters turbulences stronger than the aircraft can handle, or is struck by lightning and runs into a thunderstorm, it would be destroyed.

Thanks to radar and satellite weather images, the team is able to detect these challenges.” “Air traffic controllers monitor their radar screens and ensure that aircraft do not come too close to each other. The airplane is fitted with a transponder, which transmits a signal allowing it to be identified on radar screens.” “Without enough energy in the batteries a night flight is impossible.

The pilot would be obliged to bail out.” The pilots have developed “stretching exercises to prevent thrombosis” that “increase blood circulation in vital organs and keep the pilot alert and concentrated on flying the airplane.” “Above the ocean, sleep will be allowed in the form of short naps lasting up to 20 minutes, 10-12 times a day.” Piccard, who’s also a psychiatrist, “trained himself to only sleep for short periods by means of self-hypnosis — a technique used to dissociate the head from the body.” It “allows the body to regenerate into a very deep relaxation and keep the brain alert enough to check the instruments during the flight. “The plane is equipped with an electronic system called a Stability Augmentation System that stabilizes the plane’s flight path and alerts the pilot in his sleep if there is a problem. In addition to aviation records, the pilots, who are the mission’s founders, want to raise awareness about climate change, showcasing what can be done using nothing but renewable energy. “The most important thing isn’t to make world records,” Piccard said. “It’s to show what we can do with clean technologies,” which can simultaneously reduce carbon dioxide emissions and stimulate economic growth.” While Syria’s civilian protests to overthrow the regime Bashar al-Assad descended into a years-long civil war in which more than 220,000 have died, Libya’s militia retained a stranglehold on much of the country preventing the development of any government or civil society and Egypt threw out its first democratically-elected president in favour of reinstating military rule, Tunisia was different.

Even though Tunisia has had a history of suppressing Islamist movements, particularly under the decades-long rule of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the moderate Islamist Ennahda Party drew enough votes to be leader of the first government, stepping down in the drafting of the new constitution in 2014. Critics say Ennahda has not been tough enough in its crackdown on violent extremists, but it says it banned the al-Qaeda affiliated Ansar al-Sharia in 2013 (the group responsible for the deadly attack on the US embassy in neighbouring Libya).

But unlike in Libya, Syria or Iraq, the Islamic State holds no territory in Tunisia and there were no signs of public support for their actions following the two vicious attacks. So even though experts believe it is due to announce the creation of a “Tunisian province” of Islamic State, right now it has neither the territory nor a significant number of supporters.

At the time of Friday’s attack there were 20,000 British tourists holidaying in Tunisia, despite the travel warnings prompted by the assault on the Bardo Museum in March. At least one million French tourists travel to the former French protectorate each year (Tunisia was under French control from 1881 which lasted until its independence was declared in 1956.) Many fear the tourism industry – which makes up a significant slice of Tunisia’s GDP – won’t recover from Friday’s massacre.

Nearly every family has a relative whose livelihood depends either directly or indirectly on tourism, so it will hit the fledgling democracy’s economy hard. The government has announced it will close down any mosques preaching extremist views and crackdown on any related political and social organisations, especially those with dubious funding sources. Civil liberties and human rights groups have criticised the law, but there is broad acknowledgement that the country’s security forces are only set up for fighting conventional armies, not the terrorism insurgency of IS or the lone wolf attacks it instigates.

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