On March 9th 2015, a historic journey began in Abu Dhabi as Solar Impulse 2, the first solar-powered plane able to fly day and night without a drop of fuel, took to the skies. Its mission is to become the first fuel-free aircraft to fly around the world using only the sun’s energy for power.
Here, we take a look at the ambitious project, its possible impact on renewable technologies and what it means for Abu Dhabi.
So what’s all the fuss about, why is Solar Impulse so important?
It’s not just about setting a new world record – although, of course, that’s an important part of it. It’s about spreading inspiration and promoting a cleaner future by highlighting what can be achieved using renewable energy technologies. During its five-month journey, Solar Impulse 2, its pilots and support crew will be stopin 12 locations and reach out to organisations, communities, universities and schools with this important message. The team hopes to engage directly with thousands of people, particularly students, across the globe and inspire the next generation to think creatively, innovate, and promote a more sustainable future.
What’s Abu Dhabi’s role in the Solar Impulse 2 mission?
As the mission’s host city, Abu Dhabi was the start and will be the finish point for Solar Impulse 2’s epic journey. And Masdar, Abu Dhabi’s clean energy company, is an official partner. Masdar played a key role in preparations before the flight, including testing, training, and community engagement. Abu Dhabi and Masdar were chosen because they are at the cutting-edge of developing new technologies to replace fossil fuels, and have the ideal infrastructure and facilities to support this mission. They share many of the same values as the Solar Impulse project, including a desire to push the boundaries of what can be achieved through clean energy innovation.
What does this mean for Abu Dhabi, and the UAE?
The Solar Impulse 2 record-breaking voyage is making headlines around the world. You’ve probably seen lots of TV news bulletins, online features and newspaper articles about it yourself. That’s great news for the UAE! As host city, Abu Dhabi’s own mission to lead the world in developing sustainable technologies is being pushed into the limelight. Masdar and Solar Impulse share a vision for a sustainable future, in which our energy needs are met without depleting the Earth’s natural resources being. This message is being spread to all corners of the globe by the publicity surrounding the mission, and the community outreach happening alongside it.
How does Solar Impulse 2 work?
Solar Impulse is the world’s first aircraft of ‘perpetual endurance’, meaning it can fly purely on solar power, without a drop of fuel – even at night! It does this by converting the sun’s rays to electrical power, which it can either use immediately or stored by recharging lithium batteries. The plane has a massive wingspan of 72 meters – longer than that of a Boeing 747 – and there’s a good reason for that; the top of the wings are covered with a layer of 17,248 solar cells, which supply the four electric motors. The single-seater aircraft is made of carbon fiber and, despite its enormous wings, weighs about the same as an average car. Pretty incredible, when you think about it!
Who came up with the idea for the Solar Impulse mission?
The idea started with the two men who are flying Solar Impulse 2 around the globe, Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg, both pioneering pilots from Switzerland. Bertrand Piccard was inspired following the success of the first ever round-the-world balloon flight that he achieved in 1999 with Brian Jones. They left with 3.7 tonnes / ~8.200 lbs. of propane. Upon arrival, they had just 40 kg / ~88 lbs. left. When he realised that their attempt could have failed for lack of fuel, he promised himself that he would fly around the world again, but next time without using any fossil fuels.The two men shared a vision: to demonstrate that renewable energy sources and new technologies can achieve what some consider impossible. By doing this they hope to create a better tomorrow by inspiring in people around the world a passion for developing alternatives to fossil fuels.
Did the pilots undergo special training for this journey?
Yes, Piccard and Borschberg have spent months preparing for the physical and psychological demands of the voyage. The two pilots will take the controls one at a time, alternating between each leg of the voyage. The electronic co-pilot is capable of flying the plane for 20-minute periods during which the pilot must try to grab some sleep. Piccard and Borschberg have been training in self-hypnosis, meditation andyoga to help cope with the cramped conditions and avoid sleep deprivation. They will eat, sleep and drink in the cockpit for up to five days and nights at a time, surviving on a diet specially developed to provide the nutrients they need.
To find out more about Solar Impulse 2, go to www.solarimpulse.com