It was just over 100 years ago that the Wright brothers launched the first successful manned aircraft flight, traveling about 120 feet over the course of 12 seconds. At the time, the milestone stood as a symbol of opportunity and potential; a pioneering triumph over previous speculations that dismissed powered flight as impossible.
That spirit of exploratory ingenuity was carried on through the ages and humanity has witnessed astounding leaps and bounds in the realm of science and technology over the past century. The travel transportation industry, in specific, has grown at an incredible rate, yielding countless exciting advancements in space travel and aviation. The latest of such is a maiden voyage that mirrors the Wright brothers' premier flight, only this time the goal is to traverse the entire circumference of Earth using nothing more than the power of sunlight.
Preparing for the Inaugural Take-Off
Swiss psychiatrist Bertrant Piccard and businessman Andre Borschberg began an endeavor to redefine the limitations of renewable energy sources with the conception of the Solar Impulse project in 2003. The privately-funded operation, which sought to design and create an aircraft capable of sustained long-distance flight using 100% renewable energy sources, was inspired by the founders' intentions to increase awareness about global climate change. Years of testing and simulations along with a growing worldwide impetus towards finding new energy sources drove the realization of Piccard and Borschberg's dream and the first prototype, Solar Impulse 1, was built and ready for flight by 2009.
A slew of Solar Impulse 1 test flights took place between 2009 and 2014, effectively proving the aircraft's functionality and the feasibility of solar-powered flight overall. The first overnight flight was completed in 2010 followed by the first continental jaunt across the US in 2013. Instrumental adjustments were made over time and the Solar Impulse project established its place in the world of aeronautics with numerous successful expeditions, paving the way for increasingly longer flights as time went on.
Meet the Solar Impulse 2 All-Electric Aircraft
The newest creation and harbinger of Solar Impulse's recent global expedition is the aptly-named Solar Impulse 2; a vision of engineering precision and state-of-the-art resourcefulness. With a wingspan of nearly 240 feet the propeller-driven Solar Impulse 2 is longitudinally larger than the world's largest passenger airliner but less than 1/10th the weight and quite a bit less roomy; while a
But the electric aircraft more than makes up for its lack of onboard capacity with sheer technological prowess thanks to a host of sleek innovations. Tens of thousands of solar cells don the expansive wings to charge the 4 lithium-ion batteries (one for each propeller) that pump out power for the brushless electric motors. Lightweight aluminum and honeycomb
In a fascinating coincidence, the horsepower produced by Solar Impulse 2's electric motors is about equivalent to that of the Wright brother's revolutionary plane!
patterns of carbon fiber make up the hull of the craft whose weight is minimal enough to get off the ground at the behest of a mere 31 horsepower and the super-efficient propulsion design allows the plane to fly for 36 continuous hours on a full charge.
The Daunting Reality of Trans-Global Flight
The two man team of Piccard and Borschberg had little issue completing overnight flights in their Solar Impulse 1 craft but the prospect of circumnavigating the entire world presents several serious challenges to overcome.
The average cruising speed of the Solar Impulse 2 hovers around 60 mph; a crawling pace for a prospective journey made up of thousands of miles in total. The overall trip time is estimated to take months to complete so the one-passenger aircraft will have to make several stops along the way. While this may not be a big issue when there are plenty of places to land and take a break, Piccard and Borschberg plan on crossing the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans in 2 extended blocks of travel, each of which will take up to 6 days of continuous flying to complete. The ambitious adventurers are confident in their craft and eager to take on the challenge but only the future holds the fate of their perilous quest.
Borschberg commenced the Solar Impulse expedition, dubbed "Round the World 2015", on March 9, leaving from Abu Dhabi and successfully completed the first leg of the journey when he landed in Oman 13 hours later. Piccard piloted the second leg into India with pining enthusiasm, as reflected in a celebratory tweet from mission control: "Solar Impulse is landing at Ahmedabad Airport after a successful second leg. Fuel consumed so far: 0"
Only time will tell if the Solar Impulse 2 can make it all the way around the world but, regardless of specific outcome, Piccard and Borschberg are just happy to bring awareness to their cause. Piccard is quoted as saying "for the first time in history, we have an aeroplane that is flying with no fuel day and night, showing the incredible potential of clean technologies."