If you’re looking for hope and inspiration in what has been a testing year for many, then look no further than Solar Impulse 2.
This morning the solar-powered plane touched down in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, at 4:05am local time, bringing to an end a momentous journey around the world using nothing but the Sun’s rays to keep its four propellers turning.
Packed with 17,000 solar cells on a body as light as a car but as wide as a jumbo jet, Solar Impulse has been a pioneering example of what is possible with solar power. It’s not going to lead to a re-imagining of the aviation industry in the way that, say, Tesla has done with electric cars for the automotive industry. But it should prove as inspiration that renewable energy can be a beacon of hope in this day and age.
The single-seater plane was the brainchild of Swiss pilots Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg, who took it in turns to fly the plane on its 17 legs around the world. The journey began in Abu Dhabi on March 9, 2015, with its journey of 43,041 kilometers (26,744 miles) taking it across Asia, the Pacific Ocean, the US, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Middle East. This final leg, lasting two days, was from Cairo, Egypt, to Abu Dhabi.
Borschberg (left) and Piccard, pictured shortly after the landing. Solar Impulse
“I’m going to give a hug to each member of the team [after I land],” Piccard, who flew this leg of the journey, told IFLScience while he was still in the air. “And to my family, who supported me during all these years and encouraged me all the time.
“[I want] to thank them for the incredible devotion and commitment that they have shown through all these years.”
Piccard had dreamt of fulfilling the goal of flying around the world on solar power since he flew around the world non-stop in a balloon in 1999. That dream edged towards reality with Solar Impulse 1 in 2009, a prototype that proved the technology was possible.
Then, in 2014, Solar Impulse 2 was completed. And, for the last 16 months, which included a 9-month hiatus due to battery issues, the pilots have been taking their message of clean energy from country to country. Whether Solar Impulse will make a dent in global adoption of renewable energy remains to be seen, but the message is clear: renewable energy is here, it is clean, and it can even fly a plane around the planet.