In its continuing mission to circumnavigate the world using only solar power, the Solar Impulse 2 plane has begun its 90-hour trek across the Atlantic Ocean, one of the most testing parts of the mission yet.
The plane, with Swiss pilot Bertrand Piccard at the helm, began flying from New York City to Seville at 2.30am EDT (7.30am BST) yesterday, the 15th leg of the around-the-world trip. Since the plane took-off in March 2015, it has traversed Asia, the Pacific Ocean, and the US, and is now on its way to Europe. Piccard has been sharing the flying time of the single-seater aircraft with fellow Swiss pilot André Borschberg.
“With Solar Impulse, our aim is to encourage the deployment of clean technologies everywhere,” Piccard said in a statement prior to launch. “If an airplane can fly day and night without fuel, everybody could use these same efficient solutions in their daily lives.”
The route is mapped out according to weather conditions. Solar Impulse
The plane is expected to land in Seville Airport in Spain on Thursday, June 23, this week. During the non-stop flight, Piccard will take short “cat-naps” that are just 15 minutes long to keep himself energized, something he has been training for and will do for the rest of the project.
The journey began in Abu Dhabi on March 9, 2015, but was grounded in Hawaii for nine months in July 2015 when seasonal changes meant there was no longer enough sunlight to power the plane. After Seville, the plane will make a few more stops in Europe before ending back at Abu Dhabi, with Egypt and Greece currently being touted, a spokesperson for Solar Impulse told IFLScience.
Solar Impulse 2, which has a wingspan of 72 meters (236 feet), uses 17,000 solar cells on its wings to power its propellers, with an average speed of a modest 75 kilometers per hour (47 miles per hour). But this in itself is impressive; the plane is the first to ever attempt an around-the-world trip using nothing but solar power.
Solar Impulse 2 had a rather stunning approach to New York City in the previous leg earlier this month. Solar Impulse
This isn’t the longest leg of the journey, though. That honor goes to the trip from Nagoya to Hawaii last year, which took 117 hours and 52 minutes. And those behind the project hope it will highlight the possibilities of renewable energy, even if they don’t quite see solar power as the future of air travel.
“Solar Impulse is not going to transport 200 passengers anytime soon,” Piccarrd told IFLScience in a live in-the-air interview earlier this year. “But… Solar Impulse is a flagship of [renewable] technologies.”
It's an impressive journey all the same. To stay up to date with this Atlantic crossing, you can watch a live stream from the cockpit below.