Solar-Powered Plane Completes the Most Arduous Leg of Its Journey Around the World

The pilot arrived in Hawaii after five consecutive days in flight with a smile on his face.
Bertrand Piccard (left) celebrates with Andre Borschberg after the Solar Impulse 2 landed in Hawaii. (Photo: Hugh Gentry/Reuters)
Jul 4, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

Flying an airplane for five consecutive days sounds nearly impossible, but add solar power to the mix and the feat becomes all the more impressive.

Andre Borschberg, pilot and cofounder of Solar Impulse 2, landed in Hawaii on Friday after flying for almost 118 consecutive hours.

Not only did the Swiss pilot break records for distance and duration in solar aviation, but it was also the longest solo flight ever—surpassing the 76-hour record by a wide margin.

After surviving on prepacked meals, a handful of five- to 20-minute naps each day, and yoga stretches to prevent blood clots in his legs, Borschberg said the flight left him inspired.

“I feel exhilarated by this extraordinary journey,” he said upon his arrival. “This success fully validates the vision that my partner Bertrand Piccard had…to reach unlimited endurance in an airplane without fuel.”

The one-seater plane is covered with 17,000 solar cells. During the day, the panels store solar energy in lithium polymer batteries that keep the plane’s motor running after the sun sets.

The plane reaches a maximum speed of 100 miles per hour, which is why it took Borschberg five days to travel from Japan to Hawaii instead of the 10 hours it would take on a 560-mph fuel-powered plane.

The Round the World Solar Flight began back in March and started in Abu Dhabi. Borschberg and Piccard switch off different legs of the 13-leg tour of the world, spread out over the course of five months. Up next, Piccard will travel from Hawaii to Phoenix.

So, Why Should You Care? This successful endeavor proves that solar-powered air travel is a real possibility and exceeds the limitations of fuel-powered planes. Traditional aviation burns 16 billion gallons of jet fuel annually and is expected to increase its carbon emissions threefold by 2050.

“It is not only a historic first in aviation; it is also a historic first for renewable energies,” said Piccard. While the plane isn’t ready to transport hundreds of people across the country, the first jet-fueled plane couldn’t do so either. With more research and technological advances, solar-powered planes could become the clean-energy transportation of the future.