The sun-powered aircraft Solar Impulse has started its record-breaking attempt to fly around the world – without a single drop of fuel.
Solar Impulse began its round-the-world trip on 9 March 2015, taking off from Abu Dhabi. The aircraft’s two pioneers and pilots, Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg from Switzerland, will be alternating at the controls during the multi-leg trip.
Piccard and Borschberg are not trying to revolutionise the aviation industry but rather to demonstrate that renewable energy sources and new technologies can achieve what some people consider impossible. They want to mobilise public enthusiasm in favour of technologies that will enable decreased dependence on fossil fuels.
Innovative materials and energy technologies
Solar Impulse, designed to fly for five days and five nights in a row without a single drop of fuel, brings together the most innovative technologies in energy and materials. Its support team counts around 90 people, including 30 engineers, 25 technicians and 22 mission controllers, and the mission is supported financially and technologically by more than a hundred partners and advisers.
The project’s scientific advisor, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), has been involved in its development from the outset in 2003, with around twenty laboratories and centres contributing to developing the underpinning technologies. This involved selection and testing of materials to optimise the plane’s structure and various elements, including the solar panels and the engine. EPFL researchers also helped prepare the two pilots for managing their vigilance during the long flights by testing their brain activity and other aspects related to attention.
The duo is expected to fly over Burma and the Great Wall of China, before crossing the Pacific Ocean, the United States and the Atlantic Ocean. A dozen stages have been planned, including Varanasi in India, Nanjing in China, Hawaii and Phoenix in the Americas. The last leg will cross Southern Europe and North Africa before the plane will return to its starting point towards the end of July or the beginning of August 2015.