It doesn’t have quite the drama of Lucky Lindy’s solo flight across the Atlantic in 1927, but yesterday evening’s takeoff of Solar Impulse 2 (Si2) from Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, to start its tour around the world without fuel certainly captures the imagination.
No one is really suggesting that solar airplanes may someday replace planes using jet fuel. The plane can only accommodate two pilots, with no passengers and no cargo. That is, unless one day there are giant steps taken in solar cell efficiency and battery capabilities. The loaded weight of the Si2 fixed-wing aircraft is just 3,500 pounds.
The Swiss project is interesting because it stretches the imagination and has attracted high-level sponsors including Bayer and Solvay who have used the plane as a testbed for new lightweighting technologies ranging from high-performance engineering plastics to foams and films.
“The Solar Impulse adventure represents innovation without boundaries and Solvay’s ability to demonstrate its power in finding solutions to develop and promote low carbon technologies,” said Jean-Pierre Clamadieu, chairman of the Executive Committee and CEO of Solvay. “We wish both pilots Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg a safe flight and great success in their round-the-world tour.”
Cruising at a speed of around 43 mph, Si2 will fly 25 days spread out over five months. Si2 is scheduled to stop in 12 locations, including layovers in India, China, the United States and Europe or Northern Africa, before returning to Abu Dhabi. Among the journey’s main challenges is the non-stop flight of five days and nights from China to Hawaii.