Nagoya was never on the original 12-leg flight plan, which started in Abu Dhabi on 10 March. But 36hr after taking off from Nanjing on 30 May, a looming Pacific weather front forced a diversion – and a wait of nearly a month before the weather looked favourable for the delicate aircraft, which has the wingspan of a jumbo jet but the weight of a family car and flies on the power output of a motor scooter from its four electric motors.
But it was second time lucky when Borschberg got the “go” signal from the mission control centre in Monaco, and in the event the flight broke distance and duration records for a solar-powered aircraft.
A similar feat of endurance awaits Bertrand Piccard, Borschberg’s partner in the project, who will fly the Hawaii to Phoenix, Arizona leg of a journey that will continue to New York and then across the Atlantic, ultimately returning to Abu Dhabi.
To fly on solar power alone – Solar Impulse 2 charges its batteries solely from solar panels on its wings, fuselage and tailplane, gaining altitude during daylight and descending during the night to conserve electric power - the aircraft pushes materials and construction techniques to the limit.
The pilots, too, are stretching the limits of human endurance. To fly for several days at a stretch in a 3.8m3 cockpit, Borschberg and Piccard are employing state-of-the-art approaches to diet, and techniques including self-hypnosis, micronapping and yoga.
The Payerne, Switzerland-based duo are in any case well-suited to the task. Piccard is a medical doctor whose aviation pedigree includes the 1985 European acrobatic hang-gliding title and captaining the 1999 Breitling Orbiter non-stop round-the-world balloon flight. Borschberg is a mechanical engineer, a former Swiss air force pilot, consultant and entrepreneur.
But, ultimately, Solar Impulse is about energy, not aviation. Time spent on the ground between flights has been used to push out the message that the world’s formidable energy challenges can be tackled using – as illustrated by the aircraft – existing technologies.
Says Piccard: “With our attempt to complete the first solar-powered round-the-world flight, we want to demonstrate that clean technology and renewable energy can achieve the impossible.
“Renewable energy can become an integral part of our lives, and together we can save our planet’s natural resources.”
(Dan Thisdell - Flightglobal News)