The Solar Impulse 2 has a wingspan similar to that of the Airbus A-340 but weighs less than 5% of the commercial airliner’s maximum take-off weight. An obvious question would be how safe is it to fly this aircraft that is powered only by solar power.
Reporters asked this question to André Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard at a press conference organised about a month before the Solar Impulse 2 took off from Abu Dhabi. The enthusiasm of these two pilots was extraordinary and they were happy to share any and all information sought from them about the aircraft, the technology used, and the general flying experience.
The Bertrand Piccard told a team of reporters that they are much more afraid of the millions of tonnes of fossil fuels being burned every year rather than flying alone in this plane (see the video above). The aircraft is not an easy one to fly, but the difficulties make the entire exercise adventurous and people find this attractive, the pilots added.
By undertaking this daredevil “round-the-world” trip in Solar Impulse 2, Piccard and Borschberg want to deliver messages to various stakeholders. To the policymakers and governments around the world they want to show that the technology required to make the world clean and green, free of fossil fuels, is available today.
During their stops in the round-the-world trip, they plan to promote the use of clean energy among common people. Piccard and Borschberg will interact with people during almost every stopover they make, urging them to increase the of use clean energy in their day-to-day lives.
A Challenging Trip
While the aircraft is massive is size (I was standing in a pretty huge hanger but failed to capture the entire plane in one frame!), the cockpit has space to house just one person. Imagine flying in a relatively new aircraft on a “first-of-its-kind” journey with no one to serve you water, food, or any of those most basic of things.
Most of the food is packed in small pouches (I think tuna fish had a toothpaste-like packaging). There is no washroom in the cockpit — you’ll need to carry a toilet bag! The suit worn by the pilots looks nothing short of what most fighter aircraft pilots would wear.
Choosing the right time to fly between 2 points and which flight path to take are some of the other difficult decisions the pilots and the support staff has to take on a regular basis. The team chose to visit and cross India very early in their flight plan to avoid the monsoon season. The team has also taken note of the “geopolitically troubled” areas around the world and plan to avoid them during the flight.
Crossing the Pacific and the Atlantic Ocean would be the most difficult legs of the flight, the pilots admitted. But it would also be an excellent learning opportunity.
Image Credit: Mridul Chadha | CleanTechnica (CC BY-SA 4.0)
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