The Swiss solar-powered aircraft Solar Impulse 2 made history after it successfully completed the first-ever round-the-world solar flight on Tuesday, flying more than 40,000 kilometres without using a drop of fuel.
Solar Impulse initiator and pilot Bertrand Piccard touched down in Abu Dhabi in the early hours of Tuesday, writes Solar Impulse in a statement. The landing brings full circle the historic round-the-world journey that began in March 2015 when Solar Impulse 2 set off from Abu Dhabi with fellow pilot André Borschberg in the cockpit.
The final leg from Cairo to Abu Dhabi covered 2,694 kilometres and took Piccard 48 hours and 37 minutes to complete.
“This is not only a first in the history of aviation; it’s before all a first in the history of energy. I’m sure that within 10 years we’ll see electric airplanes transporting 50 passengers on short to medium haul flights,” said Piccard after landing.
Piccard was greeted in Abu Dhabi by Swiss federal councillor Doris Leuthard, who called 26 July 2016 “a milestone on the path towards using our world’s resources sustainably.” Following the recent opening of the Gotthard base tunnel, the longest railway tunnel in the world, Switzerland is once again on the world map for its innovative power.
ABB CEO Ulrich Spiesshofer, whose company forged an innovation and technology alliance with Solar Impulse, also celebrated the landing: “This is a truly historic achievement, with tremendous symbolic significance. It demonstrates clearly that with pioneering spirit and clean technologies, we can run the world without consuming the earth.”
The Solar Impulse team, led by pilots Piccard and Borschberg, broke a number of records on their round-the-world journey, most notably Borschberg’s pioneering first of flying five consecutive days and nights over the Pacific Ocean from Japan to Hawaii in 2015. It was the longest duration a solo airplane of any kind has every flown. It was followed by Piccard’s historic first of crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a solar-powered airplane.
But the journey wasn’t always smooth. Solar Impulse 2’s battery system was damaged when it overheated during the Pacific crossing and the airplane was grounded in Hawaii for nine months.
The aircraft has a wingspan larger than a Boeing 747 but weighs only as much as a family car. Its four engines are powered exclusively by the more than 17,000 solar cells built into the airplane’s wings. Excess energy is stored in batteries during daylight hours to keep the flight flying at night.
Image credit: Solar Impulse