The First Ever Solar Powered Flight Around the World

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First solar powered flight around the world
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What is the Solar Impulse 2?

The Solar Impulse 2 is a zero-fuel plane that consists of 17,248 solar cells as well as 4 propellers and batteries. The wingspan is about 72 meters and it weighs about 2.3 tons, traveling at an average speed of 75km/h at a maximum altitude of 28,000 feet.

The main goal of the Solar Impulse 2 was to fly around the world without a drop of fuel. Although it was not the first ever solar airplane, it was the first to complete an oceanic crossing as well as fly day and night with only energy-stored batteries. The total energy that was produced throughout the flight around the world was 11655 kWh.

Diagram of solar impuse airplane
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The Team

The team consisted of the two pilots, Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg, as well as 60 individuals who were on the ground team. The ground team consisted of flight directors, mathematicians, engineers and more. Not only did the ground team help manage the plane, but they also focused on the pilot’s health. They tracked their oxygen levels, activity of the heart, and had a built-in microphone in his oxygen mask for communication.

The Flight Plan

A few things that they had to consider for the flight path was the weather, land altitude and air traffic. Meteorologists and engineers who were based at the Monaco Mission Control Center were in charge of creating the flight plan.

The plan was to start and complete the first solar-powered flight in Abu Dhabi. The first solar-powered flight on the Solar Impulse 2 was on March 9, 2015. They did 17 separate flights, ranging from as short as 13 hours to 117 hours. The around the world flights were to Muscat, Ahmedabad, Varanasi, Mandalay, Chongqing, Nanjing, Nagoya, Hawaii, San Francisco, Phoenix, Tulsa, Dayton, Lehigh Valley, New York, Seville, Cairo and Abu Dhabi.

After the 117 hour and 52 minute flight from Nagoya, Japan to Hawaii, the plane had to be grounded for about 9 months due to “irreversible damage to overheated batteries”. Although there were some challenges along the way, that did not stop the team from completing their full trip around the world. The Solar Impulse 2 successfully completed the first solar-powered flight around the world on July 24, 2016.

The Main Goal

The main goal of the Solar Impulse 2 was to show that you can achieve your goals while using renewable energy and resources. As stated by Bertrand Piccard, “Solar Impulse was not built to carry passengers, but to carry messages. We want to demonstrate the importance of the pioneering spirit, to encourage people to question what they’ve always taken for granted. The world need to find new ways of improving the quality of life. Clean technologies and renewable forms of energy are part of the solution.”

Solar impuse over NYC
Solar impuse over San Francisco
Solar impuse over pyramids

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“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.” -Bertrand Piccard


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