Solar Airplane Completes Trip Around the Globe

     (CN) — The first aircraft to fly around the world using only the sun’s energy touched down in Abu Dhabi Tuesday, completing an unprecedented 25,000-mile journey that began more than a year ago.
     The Swiss-engineered Solar Impulse 2 was launched in March 2015 by Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg, who took turns piloting the aircraft along its journey. Piccard completed the final leg.
     The plane made 16 stops across the world without using traditional fuel to demonstrate the value of clean technologies, which could drastically reduce fossil fuel consumption and preserve natural resources.
     Borschberg greeted Piccard upon landing.
     “The future is clean. The future is you. The future is now. Let’s take it further,” Piccard said.
     The aircraft uses 17,248 solar cells to transfer energy to four electrical motors that power the aircraft’s propellers. It weighs about 5,070 pounds, equivalent to a mid-sized truck or minivan.
     A Boeing 747 weighs 400,000 pounds, not including passengers, cargo or fuel.
     Piccard and Borschberg used runners and bicyclists to keep the Solar Impulse 2 steady during takeoffs and landings.
     The journey also presented some challenges, including a nine-month delay last year after the plane’s batteries were damaged during a flight from Japan to Hawaii. The trip was delayed another week in Cairo before beginning its final flight to Abu Dhabi, due to Piccard becoming ill and poor weather conditions.
     The plane completed more than 500 flight hours, cruising at an average speed of between 28 and 56 miles per hour.
     Piccard and Borschberg — who launched the Solar Impulse project in 2003 — took turns flying the single-seater plane, and practiced self-hypnosis and yoga to remain physically and mentally relaxed.
     The seat in the plane reclines, and the cushion can be removed for access to a toilet. The goggles worn by the pilots flashed lights to wake them up, while armbands underneath their suits would buzz to alert them if the plane was not at flying level.
     The pilots would rest a maximum of 20 minutes at a time, repeating this 12 times each day. Piccard spent 70 hours crossing the Atlantic Ocean, which had never been done by a solar-powered plane. Borschberg’s flight over the Pacific Ocean was even longer, spanning five days and five nights — a record for the longest flight by a pilot flying solo.
     Hot temperatures in the Middle East produced thermals and turbulence that forced Piccard to wear an oxygen mask for long periods of time as he traveled from Cairo to Abu Dhabi over three nights and two days to complete the trip.
     Piccard is a physicist and the son of undersea explorer Jacques Piccard. In 1999, he became the first person to circumnavigate the globe non-stop in a hot air balloon.
     Borschberg, an entrepreneur, is also an engineer and graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
     The project is expected to cost more than $100 million. The UAE-based Masdar — the Abu Dhabi government’s clean-energy company — is the project’s primary sponsor. Google, Omega, Swedish-Swiss automation corporation ABB, and several others also sponsored the project.
     “By flying around the world thanks to renewable energy and clean technologies, we have demonstrated that we can now make our world more energy efficient,” Borschberg said in a statement.

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