July 6, 2015

Catching Up With Solar Impulse 2, Setting Records In 117-Hour Flight To Hawaii

By Erica R. Hendry

Diane and the pilots of Solar Impulse pose after our June 2013 show.

Diane and the pilots of Solar Impulse pose after our June 2013 show.

Sixteen years ago, Bertrand Piccard had a vision: a zero-fuel plane that could fly around the world.

This week, he overcame what many saw as his biggest challenge yet, as he and partner Andre Borschberg completed their project’s most grueling leg: A five day, five night, nonstop flight from Japan to Hawaii — without a single drop of fuel.

The pilots, who visited our studio with their prototype in 2013, are more than halfway through their mission to become the first solar plane to fly around the world.

Why solar? Experts say it will be the most popular power source in the world by 2050; the pilots hope their work inspires new thinking about how to better use it.

“Another way to answer to this question is to say that our goal is not to make a revolution in air transport. Our goal is to make a revolution in the mindset of the people when they think in terms of energy, in terms of clean technologies and energy savings. Because in the past when we spoke about saving energy, it was really a threat for mobility, for lifestyle and so on. And now when we speak of energy saving we speak about clean technologies that allow to protect the environment of course, but also allows to create jobs, to make profit, to assist in the growth of the industry,” Piccard told Diane in 2013.

The Solar Impulse 2, dotted with more than 17,000 solar cells, has faced a number of challenges since it took off in March from Abu Dhabi. One of them: Weather. This most recent 4,000 mile journey — the eighth of a planned 13 legs — was two months in the making. The pair was stuck for weeks in Japan because of poor weather conditions.

When the plane finally did take off, Borschberg spent 117 hours alone in the air, “climbing the equivalent altitude of Mount Everest five times without much rest,” he said on Twitter. A commercial jet could’ve made the trip in about 12 hours.

The recent leg has set records for the longest flight by both time and distance — traveling more than 5,100 miles — as well as for the longest nonstop solo flight by time, The New York Times says.

Next up: A four-day flight to Phoenix, Arizona, with several more stops in the U.S. before completing the loop back to Abu Dhabi.

Want more? Watch video of the plane landing below, or check out some highlights of our 2013 interview.


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