Solar Impulse-2, a solar powered plane, has began its record-breaking attempt to fly around the world in what is expected to be a five-month long journey. The aircraft, which took off from Abu Dhabi, is headed for its first stop east in Muscat, Oman. Swiss businessman Andre Borschberg and psychiatrist Bertrand Piccard are to share piloting duties of the single-seater aircraft.
The plane is scheduled to stop at a number of locations around the world, for both maintenance and rest purposes. It also aims to create awareness about clean technologies in an effort to bring changes to a highly fossil fuel-dependent aviation industry. Much work still remains to be done to make solar flights commercially viable, but Solar Impulse-2 might reignite interest in the concept.
The Solar Impulse project has already broken records for its famed US transit flight in 2013. The journey Solar Impulse-2 will make will be far more daunting, since it aims to cross both the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean. Each leg of the journey is expected to take several nights and days to complete since the plane is powered by a slow propeller.
The plane will make its way through India and China before it has to cross the large expanse of the Pacific Ocean in two months time. The plane will stop over Hawaii before cross through mainland United States. It will then fly over the Atlantic Ocean before reaching mainland Europe or North Africa. The plane will then gradually make its way back to Abu Dhabi.
Solar Impulse has fitted its latest plane with 17,000 solar cells on top of the wings as well as lithium-ion batteries that will allow it to fly non-stop during the night. It was a wingspan of 72 metres, more than a Boeing 747 jumbo jet, but it still weighs less than 3 tonnes.
Piccard and Borschberg, depending on who is at the controls of the single-seater aircraft, will be confined to a cockpit space that is just 3.8 cubic metres in volume. They will only be allowed to sleep for 20 minutes at a time during periods where they are airborne, much like yachtsmen who also partake in round-the-world journeys.