Solar plane pilot: ‘I wouldn’t leave if I had doubts’

31 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Round-the-world Solar Impulse starts six-day flight from China to Hawaii.

The latest leg in the round-the-world attempt by solar-powered Solar Impulse 2 from China to Hawaii will take six days. Pilot Andre Borschberg, 62, left the ground in Nanjing, in eastern China, heading for the US island of Hawaii, at about 2:40 am (1840 GMT), 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.

The point of the months-long series of flights is to demonstrate environmentally friendly technologies, ranging from the plane’s ultra-light building materials to its fuel-free power source. No ship will trail the plane as it is far too fast for a maritime vessel to keep up with, even though its maximum speed of 140 kilometers (87 miles) an hour is much slower than conventional jet aircraft. In advance of the Pacific flight, the crew stripped off two side wheels and internal brakes from the propellers to make the fragile-looking craft — already just 2.3 tons, the weight of a large SUV — as light as possible.

It gets all its energy from more than 17,000 solar cells installed on its fuselage, wings and tail — and can fly through the night, thanks to the power stored in more than 1,300 pounds (633 kilograms) of batteries. 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. Ahead of his departure, Borschberg said it was a key point for the project and for his co-pilot for the other legs, Bertrand Piccard: “This is the moment of truth.

This represents an extraordinary illustration of technological innovation which André initiated and led during the last 12 years.” If all goes well, Piccard is due to take over the controls for the next leg from Hawaii to Phoenix. Just in case something goes terribly wrong, Borschberg is equipped with a parachute, a survival raft stocked with extra supplies and an emergency beacon to alert rescuers in the Pacific. Solar Impulse’s team had to wait for a weather report that promised calm weather for the duration of the flight: Dark, stormy skies would not be good for a solar-powered plane.

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