The solar-powered Solar Impulse 2 aircraft has begun a
record-breaking attempt to fly around the world.
It took off
from Abu Dhabi in the Middle East just after 7am local time,
and proceeded east towards Oman. The plane is being piloted by its
long-time pilot André Borshberg, who flew it across the United States in 2013.
But the plane has been significantly upgraded since then,
increasing its wingspan to 72 metres to allow for more than 17,000.
Despite this enormous wingspan and the lithium-ion batteries that
it carries to sustain night-time flying, it weighs just 2.3
That compares rather favourably to a 747 jumbo jet, which has a
wingspan of 68 metres and weighs more than 300 tonnes. But the 747
is powered by jet engines, while the Solar Impulse 2 will rely on
propellers driven by the energy of the sun. Borschberg will share
piloting duties with Bertrand Piccard, who was the first to
complete a non-stop balloon flight around the globe.
After Oman, the route encompasses India, Myanmar, China, Hawaii,
the United States and either southern Europe or northern Africa
before it returns to Abu Dhabi in five months’ time. It’s not a
non-stop trip – the plan is to stop off in the above locations to
rest, carry out maintenance, and spread a message of clean
The tricky bit will come after China, when either Piccard or
Borschberg will need to cross the Pacific in two legs. The slow
speed of the plane means that it’ll take about five days, and the
sole pilot will need to stay awake almost the entire time – taking
occasional 20 minute naps in the phonebox-sized cockpit.
The mission will be run from a control room in Monaco with a
team of engineers following it around the world, and a mobile
hangar will house the plane when not in the air.
Aside from a lack of sleep and temperatures swinging from -40C
to 40C, the biggest challenge will be the weather conditions on
ocean crossings. The team may need to sit on the ground
for weeks before a window of opportunity opens, although a
simulated mission carried out on 2014 showed it was