Solar Impulse 2, the first solar-powered flying machine to tour the world, began its record-challenging trip on Monday. Departing from Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arabian Emirates, it is scheduled to reach its first pit stop, in Muscat, Oman, in approximately 12 hours. The next programmed destinations are India, Myanmar, China and the U. S. The whole world-circling journey is estimated to take up to 5 months, covering 35,000 kilometers (21,748 miles). Today, it will fly only the first 250 miles (400 kilometers).
The initial plan was to depart on this journey earlier, on the 1st of March, but weather-related warnings determined a week’s delay. The wind blew strongly and dust-storms prevented visibility for the past few days, but this morning the skies were clearer and the machine took off successfully. Meteorologist Luc Truellemans explained that the sandstorms and the sea breezes exceeded the limits allowed for flying in the course of last week, but have now calmed down to manageable strengths.
The heroes of this story, pilots Andre Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard, are set on spending 500 hours in front of the flight panels in the course of this journey. They will control the plane alternatively. Piccard told the press that they both had “butterflies in the stomach” at the beginning of this long-prepared historical cruise (which they started planning about 12 years ago). Borschberg will be the one to fly the first leg of the tour, while Piccard is scheduled to fly the last one and arrive back in Abu Dhabi after nearly half a year. Flying over the ocean is also programmed to be shared between the two pilots: Piccard will fly over the Pacific and Borschberg will lead the cross-Atlantic part of the journey.
Solar Impulse is 72 meters (236 feet) wide across the wings, which exceeds the wingspan of a Boeing 747, but the solar-powered machine far is lighter, weighing only 2.5 tons. The cockpit is relatively small (3.8 square meters, with one seat). The two pilots have stored aboard a week’s reserve of food and water, a parachute and a life raft, as well as oxygen bottles for emergencies.
If this trip is to succeed, it will not be Piccard’s fist record-breaking one: he was also part of the first team who flew around the earth in a balloon without pit stops, in 1999.
To follow the team’s progress, you can look up #RTW on twitter. @andreborschberg and @bertrandpiccard will keep you posted.
image source: Arabian Aerospace