During the summer of 2013, two Swiss pilots embarked on a record-setting journey across the United States in a solar-powered airplane. The plane, Solar Impulse, was the first solar-powered aircraft capable of flying day and night without requiring so much as a drop of fuel. The ambitious duo made it from coast-to-coast, starting near San Francisco and ending in New York City. Now, the intrepid explorers have set their sights even higher as they want to spend five months journeying around the globe on zero fuel, starting and ending in Abu Dhabi. And here’s their route:
In late February or early March, pilots Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg will depart Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, and head east. They will make stops in Oman, India, Myanmar and China before heading across the Pacific Ocean. After a stop in Hawaii, the team will head across the continental USA, stopping in three locations: Phoenix, New York City, and a third that will be chosen later depending on the weather. They’ve then got to make it across the Atlantic, heading for somewhere in either Southern Europe or North Africa, before finally arriving back in Abu Dhabi by late July or early August.
During this five-month mission, the pilots will cover 22,000 miles (35,000 kilometers) in approximately 10 legs, some of which will last more than five days and nights. It will require around 500 hours in the air, which is the equivalent of three weeks. The pilots will be taking it in turns to fly the plane, and will have a 60-person support team who will be constantly monitoring the weather so that the route can be altered if necessary.
The pair will be flying the recently unveiled Solar Impulse 2, which is a next-generation version of the Solar Impulse prototype used in previous missions. This single-seater, carbon fiber aircraft has a 72 meter wingspan, which is larger than that of a Boeing 747, although it only weighs 2,300 kilograms (5,071 lbs) in total. The wings house an impressive 17,000 solar cells which supply four electric motors with energy from the sun. The pilots are able to fly for long stretches without needing to stop because during the day, the solar panels recharge the craft’s heavy lithium batteries. When the sun sets, the pilots will dip from altitudes of up to 28,000 feet to just 5,000 feet and cruise using battery power.
The idea behind these increasingly ambitious missions is not to bring commercially viable solar planes to the market, but rather to highlight the vast potential of renewable energy. “We want to promote the clean technologies that are so important for our world,” Piccard told Live Science. “This is an exciting vision.”