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Solar-Powered Aeroplane Completes World Flight

Image credit: Wikimedia
Image credit: Wikimedia
Image credit: Wikimedia

The Solar Impulse touched down in Abu Dhabi today, ending the first round-the-world flight for an aeroplane powered solely by energy from the sun.

Making seventeen stops across multiple continents, the Solar Impulse began its global journey from Abu Dhabi in March this year, travelling 40,000km in total. Along the way one of its two pilots broke a world record for the longest uninterrupted solo flight, taking over one hundred hours to fly from the centre of Japan all the way to Hawaii.

17,000 miniature solar panels utilise solar energy from the sun to power the vehicle’s electric motors. The Solar Impulse’s capacity to fly is heavily dependent on the conditions of the weather.

Driving the two pilots, Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg, is a desire for humanity to cut its harmful emissions and use environmentally-friendly technologies more often for more things. They believe that the solar energy of their transport “could use the plane’s technologies on the ground to halve our world’s energy consumption, save natural resources and improve our quality of life.”

The pilots are no strangers to breaking world records: in 1999, Piccard and Brian Jones flew a hot air balloon across the world without pause. The Solar Impulse round-the-world flight broke nineteen records itself! Piccard himself is a descendent of a family of famously ambitious scientists: in 1960 his father was the first to descend to the bottom of the sea, later going on to construct the world’s first passenger submarine; his father before him was the first to fly a hot air balloon into the stratosphere.

The aircraft is far from suitable for public use. The pilots sat in a small, uncomfortable cockpit and, over longer flights, were permitted to sleep only in twenty-minute intervals. But Piccard and Borschberg’s priority now is distributing their calls for cleaner energy to schools and public institutions. The Solar Impulse website contains a number of short documents directed toward schoolchildren, exploring the science of generating electricity from sunlight, magnets and the weather’s impact on sustainable solar energy.

It may be many years before we are able to board solar-powered aeroplanes at the airport – even more so to fly across countries. But Piccard and Borschberg’s environmentalism will only grow. With luck, the right people will take notice and make efforts to make our technology, transport and economies more environmentally-friendly.