Solar-Powered Aircraft Is Ready to Resume Around-the-World Flight

The fossil-fuel-free plane was grounded for nine months because of battery failure.

Bertrand Piccard finished his first training flight of Solar Impulse 2 on March 14, 2015, in Hawaii before the first around-the-world solar flight. (Photo: Solar Impulse/Flickr)

Apr 16, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Taylor Hill is an associate editor at TakePart covering environment and wildlife.

Nine months ago, pilot André Borschberg flew an aircraft from Japan to Hawaii.

But this was no typical eight-hour journey on a jetliner. Borschberg was flying Solar Impulse 2, a sun-powered plane capable of flying day and night without using a drop of jet fuel.

Capable of going 38 miles an hour at most, Solar Impulse 2’s transpacific flight took five days to complete—and fried the plane’s batteries in the process.

The mishap has delayed Borschberg and fellow Swiss pilot Bertrand Piccard’s attempt at the first around-the-world trip in a solar-powered plane, with each pilot taking turns at the controls of the single-seat aircraft.

Setting off from Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates in March 2015, the duo completed 13 legs on their eastward circumnavigation before overheating the plane’s batteries in July.

Now, after replacing the batteries and completing multiple test flights, Solar Impulse 2 is ready to resume its attempt to set a record while promoting renewable energy.

“The primary purpose of this adventure is to demonstrate that modern, clean technologies can achieve the impossible and encourage everyone to use these same energy-efficient solutions on the ground in their daily lives for mobility, construction, lighting, heating, cooling, and more,” Piccard said in a statement.

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Swiss explorers Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg. (Photo: Solar Impulse/Flickr)

Solar Impulse 2—with a wingspan comparable to that of a Boeing 747—weighs about as much as a midsize car and has the engine power of a small motorcycle. Its slow speed and passenger capacity of one (the pilot) means it won’t be replacing the 460-passenger, 560-mph Boeing 787. But for an airline industry burning 16 billion gallons of jet fuel a year and on course to triple its greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, clean energy alternatives are desperately needed.

Possible destinations for Solar Impulse 2’s around-the-world flight. (Photo: Solar Impulse/Flickr)

Borschberg and Piccard are waiting for a clear weather window to complete the expected four-day flight from Hawaii to one of four potential locations along the West Coast of North America. Their destination will depend on weather patterns. From there, the team expects to embark on nine more flights, wrapping up in Abu Dhabi this summer.

“It is not only a historic first in aviation,” said Piccard. “It is also a historic first for renewable energies.”