Published on June 24th, 2016 | by Sandy Dechert5
Solar Impulse Makes It To Europe Through Dark Atlantic Night
June 24th, 2016 by Sandy Dechert
Without a single drop of fuel, Solar Impulse 2—the experimental, sponsor-funded airplane wide as a Boeing 747 but only as heavy as an SUV—made history Thursday morning by completing its crossing of the Atlantic Ocean on solar energy alone.
Pilot/adventurer/physician Bertrand Piccard flew in the spiritual tracks of Charles A. Lindbergh, the American aviator who made the first nonstop solo flight across the Atlantic 89 years ago. CleanTechnica has followed the science and story of the solar plane since its inception.
The cleantech pioneers, Piccard and businessman/combat aviator André Borschberg, call Solar Impulse 2 “a flying laboratory full of clean technologies.” More than 17,000 SunPower solar cells and over 800 pounds of advanced lithium polymer batteries power the craft. It demonstrates the genius and substantial commitments of four main corporate sponsors:
- Belgian chemicals giant Solvay, which contributed 15 products that are being used in 25 applications and 6,000 parts on the airplane, replacing thousands of metal components with high-performance, lightweight polymers,
- Schindler (“We move over 1 billion people per day”), mobility experts who have embedded in the Si2 project the engineering talent that created the first elevator powered exclusively by solar energy,
- Swiss power and automation company ABB, a world-leading producer in solar inverters and enhanced charging technology, and
- The famous watchmakers of OMEGA, contributor of the lightweight landing light system, an energy dispatcher, and the OMEGA Instrument for stability on approach and landing.
With the recent Atlantic crossing, the people of the Solar Impulse 2 team have continued to popularize renewable energy technology and energy efficiency. They believe that these efforts are destined to improve the quality of life for all of us ground-dwellers. Borschberg tweets: “Making the #impossible possible is a question of mindset: seeing obstacles as opportunities, welcoming #change.”
On Monday night, after searching among routes that included Lindbergh’s early destination of Paris, engineers at the Mission Control Center in Monaco were able to identify a narrow weather window that promised reasonable weather for the Atlantic flight.
Taking off from JFK airport in New York in the light of the rare and delectable solstice Strawberry Moon, Dr. Bertrand Piccard sends a message to those left on the ground. “Goodbye, JFK Hangar 19. Thanks for hosting us in 2013 for the Si1 Across America mission and again this year! May the #futureisclean be with you.” As dawn begins to break in the east, he adds “The full moon for takeoff and now a pink sky in front of me. The day is waking up and the sun will soon start to charge Si2’s batteries.”
While he begins to pass over the ocean, Piccard notices a pod of whales far below: “What a beautiful sight of jumping whales. Just like the whales below me, #Si2 depends only on nature.” He spots a stray iceberg in another location. And he tweets his cleantech perspective on sighting a large oil tanker.
“The Mission Control Center [in Monaco] is the eyes and ears of Solar Impulse,” says the log of the round-the-world adventure. Here, among long desks of computers, the mission engineers and other specialists keep track of how plane and pilot are faring and constantly monitor flight indices.
Crossing the ocean with a solar airplane is difficult because of complex, changing weather and other factors that make it hard to plan each following step. As Bertrand Piccard perceives clouds ahead of him, the engineers confirm a planned route to circumnavigate the cold front surrounding Solar Impulse. Shifts at Mission Control swap regularly as tired engineers turn over communications and commands to rested individuals.
Landmarks along the way include the first 24 hours of solar airplane flight across the Atlantic Ocean and the First Energy Neutral Morning, when the aircraft’s batteries start recharging from the sun. “Proof of perpetual flight!” says the Solar Impulse team.
There’s also a surprise gift on Solar Impulse 2 for Bertrand from his wife Michele and friends. As Piccard told CleanTechnica director Zachary Shahan in Switzerland when Solar Impulse 2 was unveiled and again when other CleanTechnica reporters visited Si2 in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, he has always favored poet/author/songwriter/performer Leonard Cohen, composer of “Suzanne,” “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye, “Hallelujah,” “I’m Your Man,” and five live albums. Michele secured a dedicated copy of Book of Longing by the artist and it was tucked away in a cockpit hidey-hole for Bertrand to discover in the air.
The next critical points of the voyage are the halfway point of the Atlantic and Solar Impulse 2 flying over the exotic Portuguese Azores Islands. At this point, the pilot is tired after 44 hours of flight and picking up little snatches of necessary rest while Mission Control Center troubleshoots. Turbulence cuts short his catnaps, which have to be postponed until the islands are safely behind him.
“Batteries are almost fully charged 86%, once again we proved that #futureisclean.” Soon the pilot announces, “I am chatting LIVE to Richard Branson from Si2 cockpit over the Atlantic Ocean.” The English entrepreneur, humanitarian, ecologist, and founder of the Virgin Group of over 400 companies is a longtime friend. Bertrand also converses with Raphaël Domjan, the first to circle the world with a solar boat.
Continuing the Solar Impulse advocacy of clean technology, Bertrand Piccard announces his decision with André Borschberg to establish an International Committee of Clean Technology:
“Until recently, protecting the environment was expensive and threatened our society’s comfort, mobility, and growth. Today, thanks to modern clean technologies, the energy consumption of the world, and therefore the C02 emissions, could be divided by two, while creating jobs and enhancing profits. The International Committee of Clean Technologies will work in this direction…. The goal of this Committee is to continue the legacy Solar Impulse started, promoting concrete energy-efficient solutions in order to solve many of the challenges facing society today.”
On June 22, his last night above the Atlantic, Piccard recalls with reverence a favorite song of 1970, “Help me make it through the night,” that has crossed his mind since conceiving of solar transoceanic flight in a one-seat plane. That night he celebrates the 80th birthday of the hit’s artist, Kris Kristofferson, by sending him a Solar Impulse-made video of the song, along with birthday wishes: “I hope you’ll like it. And most of all, happy birthday to you!”
After 2 days and 20 hours over the Atlantic Ocean, Bertrand crosses the European coastline. Calm weather and favorable winds have allowed him to cut about 20 hours off the predicted flying time. As he guides Solar Impulse into the southern Spanish city of Sevilla, the sun rises behind them. An honor guard from the Spanish formation flying team Patrulla Aguila accompanies Si2, trailing ribbons of colored smoke.
Co-venturer André Borschberg sends him a tweet:
“You made it @bertrandpiccard! I think you’ve deserved your @MoetHennessy champagne, wouldn’t you say?”
Standing on Earth for the first moment in almost four days, Bertrand speaks to the crowd:
“The Atlantic has always been the symbol of going from the Old World to the New World. And everybody has tried to cross the Atlantic with sailboats, steamboats, airships, airplanes, balloons, even rowing boats and kitesurfs. Today, it’s a solar-powered airplane for the first time ever, flying electric, with no fuel and no pollution.”
“We want to represent the new world, the world of #cleantechs. Because the #futureisclean & it starts now! ?”
Indeed it does. As for Solar Impulse, the plane’s crew is already starting some checkups and maintenance while the airplane sunbathes for the public. Most of its Abu Dhabi round-the-world odyssey is now complete. The Solar Impulse team will next head from Spain toward either Egypt or Greece, depending on the weather. Its enduring message:
“Let’s run the world with clean technologies.… Everybody could use the same technologies on the ground [as on Solar Impulse] to halve our world’s energy consumption, save natural resources, and improve our quality of life.”
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All Si2 images are from photos or videos on the solarimpulse.com website. The Cohen book is from the public domain.