Flying the plane itself was no mean feat. To save on weight it was stripped of many of the amenities one might expect, meaning the pilots had to go without many comforts such as heating or air conditioning. Going to the toilet consisted of using a rather unsavory hole in the pilot’s seat, while sleep consisted of short 20-minute catnaps – even on the longest flights, which lasted several days.
To keep its power running, the plane flew above the clouds to collect sunlight during the day, before dipping down lower at night to save its batteries. And owing to being completely solar powered, it packed a modest top speed of just 75 km/h (47 mph).
But the mission, aside from promoting renewable energy, has broken numerous records along the way: 19 according to the Solar Impulse team. This includes Borschberg’s five-day crossing of the Pacific Ocean from Japan to Hawaii in June 2015, the longest solo airplane flight ever attempted. And Piccard became the first person to cross the Atlantic Ocean in a solar airplane when he flew from New York to Seville in June this year.
Piccard snapped this view out of the window on his way to Abu Dhabi. Solar Impulse
“This is not only a first in the history of aviation; it’s before all a first in the history of energy,” said Piccard after exiting the cockpit this morning. “The same clean technologies used on Solar Impulse could be implemented on the ground in our daily life to divide by two the CO2 emissions in a profitable way.”
“More than a demonstration, it’s the confirmation that these technologies are truly dependable and reliable,” added Borschberg.
In a world where Britain has voted to leave the European Union (to the detriment of science) and Donald Trump continues a terrifying march towards the White House (to the detriment of pretty much everyone), perhaps Solar Impulse is the beacon of hope we needed – although not necessarily deserved.