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Solar Plane Flies the Sunny Skies

Jul 1, 2016

After landing in southern Spain, the Solar Impulse 2 will now embark on the home stretch of its trans-global journey—all without as much as a teaspoon of jet fuel.

Swiss pilots Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg have alternated between different legs of the around-the-world flight, which started in the United Arab Emirates in March 2015. Their route, which is entirely in the northern hemisphere, should take them back to the UAE later this summer. 

Solar Impulse 2 runs on 17,000 solar cells that power propellers and charge batteries. The solar plane, which features carbon-fiber wings that are wider than those of a Boeing 747, weighs only 5,000 pounds.

While this clean-tech solar plane can reach an altitude of 39,000 feet, similar to what commercial aircraft fly, its top speed is less than 100 miles per hour. Combine that with some weather problems over China and a 9-month layover in Hawaii due to technical malfunctions and you can see why this has become a year-long odyssey.

Dating back to 2002, the Solar Impulse project has cost more than $100 million, which has been financed by a combination of private companies, individuals and the Swiss government. Google has sponsored the flight and the European Space Agency is providing technical guidance.

Piccard and Borschberg,who piloted the first balloon to circle the world non-stop, began the Solar Impulse project as a way to shine a light on renewal energy. While commercial viability may be years away, Solar Impulse does give us a glimpse at air travel without the need for fossil fuels.


Each Barrel of Crude Oil Makes
Gasoline 19 gallons
Diesel 12 gallons
Jet Fuel 4 gallons
Others 11 gallons
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

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