Solar airliner builds history after completing round-the-world trip-up

Solar Impulse 2, which landed in Abu Dhabi, is first airplane powered by the renewable energy source to tour the globe

Solar Impulse 2 has completed the first round-the-world flight by a solar-powered aeroplane, after touching down in Abu Dhabi early on Tuesday.

The final leg of the feat, is targeted at showcasing the potential of renewable energy, was a bumpy one, with turbulence driven by hot desert air leaving the solo pilot, Bertrand Piccard, fighting with the controls.

The plane, which has a wingspan wider than a Boeing 747 and carries more than 17,000 solar cell on its wings, began the circumnavigation in March 2015 in Abu Dhabi. It had now been traversed both the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean use no fossil fuel and has spent more than 23 days in the air.

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Speaking to the Protector from the cockpit shortly before landing, Piccard said he was feeling emotional as he neared the end of the journey: It is a very, very special moment it has been 15 years that I am working on this goal.

I hope people will understand that it is not just a first in the history of aviation, but also a first in the history of energy, he said.

All the clean technologies we use, they can be used everywhere. So we have flown 40,000 km, but now it is up to other people to take it further. It is up to every person in a house to take it further, every head of state, every mayor in a city, every entrepreneur or CEO of a company.

These technologies now can attain the world much better and we have to use them , not only for the environment, but also because they are profitable and create jobs.

Solar impulse graphic

During daylight, the solar panels charged the planes batteries, which make up a quarter of the crafts 2.3 tonne weight. The pilot also climbed to 29,000 feet during the day and glided down to 5,000 feet at night, to conserve power. The airplane flies at about 30 mph, although it can go faster if the sunlight is bright.

The plane could fly almost perpetually but the pilots cannot, due to the gruelling conditions aboard.

Bertrand alternated with Andr Borschberg to fly the 16 legs of the journey, expending up to five days in the unheated and unpressurised cabin, taking only short naps and with the single seat doubling up as a lavatory. Borschberg flew the longest leg, 4,000 miles over the Pacific from Japan to Hawaii, smashing the record for the longest uninterrupted journey in aviation history.

But Bertrand said his biggest challenge was get his pilots licence in the first place: The challenge was to come from the world of ballooning and hang gliding to the world of aeroplanes and tools and procedures. When I initiated the project, I had no aeroplane licence so I had to work for it over six years. I did hundreds of hours to be allowed to fly a prototype aeroplane.

Piccard and Borschberg, both Swiss, are seasoned adventurers. Piccard induced the first non-stop balloon flight around the world in 1999, while Borschberg, a former Swiss Air Force fighter pilot, has had brushes with death involving an avalanche and a helicopter crash.

Bertrand said the final leg from Cairo to Abu Dhabi was particularly tough, because of having to fly at high altitude to avoid the worst of the turbulence. It is a much more demanding and depleting flight, he said. It is so turbulent, there were moments in the last night that I could not rest at all, I only had to fight with my flight controls.

He said his ground team had made the record-breaking flight possible: I am alone in the plane but all the people who have worked on this project are people who are completely devoted and committed to success. I will give to each of them a big hug, because they built my dream possible.

The aim of the Solar Impulse adventure was not to develop solar-powered airliners for widespread use, but to show the capabilities of renewable energy.

I worked for 15 years to have[ this] demonstration of the improvements of these technologies, so now I really wishes to leverage this demonstration and create a world council for clean technologies, Piccard told. That will allow all these experts and specialists to advise the governments and big corporations on which types of technology to use to profitably opposed climate change and profitably protect the environment.

Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, told: Solar Impulse has flown more than 40,000 kilometers without gasoline, but with an inexhaustible furnish of energy and inspiration. This is a historic day for Captain Piccard and the Solar Impulse team, but it is also an historical day for humanity.

You may be objective your around the world flight today, but the journey to a more sustainable world to begin. The Solar Impulse team is conducive to pilot us to that future.

Solar Impulses journey has not been without difficulties. Crosswinds in China caused weeks of lags in 2015 and overheating batteries during the Pacific intersecting forced it to spend the winter inside a Hawaiian hangar. The team also overcame fiscal troubles in 2015 after creating 20 m from sponsors.

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