André Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard are two Swiss pilots that have begun circumnavigating the the world in a solar-powered plane. The founders of the project will alternate flying the plane during the five-month long project. Each of the flights will last approximately five or six days. The two pilots will swap when the aircraft lands to stop for maintenance.

The plane set off from Abu Dhabi a couple of days ago and will be heading around the globe before heading back to the Gulf, hopefully by late July or early August. This new venture has been hailed as a lot more than just a demonstration of the technology behind solar power. The aircraft and the journey it takes is hoping to serve as a demo for the future possibilities of clean fuel flights.

Both of the pilots of the aircraft are confident in the technology and their skills to manage the Solar Impulse aircraft. The aircraft is a new version of a prototype, which first took off five months prior to this launch and the pilots have previously flown coast-to-coast in the US. The design of this prototype has changed a few times before the model, which the men are currently flying, came to to be used.

The big question is will it be successful? This new venture is a great deal more ambitious than previous flights and will push both the plane and pilots further than ever before. Obviously the flights will be long and arduous and the pilots will be forced to sit still and concentrate for days on end, all from a tiny cockpit that is approximately the size of a car interior.

An early design that has changed somewhat from the Solar Impulse model that Picard and Borschberg are piloting.

One of the big challenges is keeping up with concentration during the long flights. But interestingly, one of the two men, Picard, is a psychologist and the two men have studied meditation and hypnosis techniques that will ensure that they can keep their concentration during these long flights. Whilst up in the air, the pilots will also, bizarrely, take small naps that last for 20-minutes a time during the flights 12 times per day. The pilots will wear goggles that will flash lights to wake them up so they don’t fall asleep longer.

The aircraft itself has huge wings that help it fly and catch the sun’s rays and it is powered by solar cells that are made of very thin film. The energy gathered is then stored in super-efficient batteries, to help the plane stay aloft the air in the dark.

Solar Impulse by the numbers:

  • Solar cells: 17,248, all built into the wing
  • Batteries: 4, made of lithium-ion
  • Wingspan: 72 meters (236 feet), wider than a Boeing 747
  • Weight: 5,070-lb, about the weight of a car
  • Speed: 25 knots, or 28 mph, is the best speed according to the pilots
  • Naps: 12 for every 24 hours
  • Gallons of fuel: 0

The team behind the flight hope that it will serve as a demonstration of the viability of green air travel. This campaign is part of the “Future is Clean”, campaigning group that has been set up by the two men who founded the Solar Impulse mission. The group is supported by a varied range of firms and people including Richard Branson.

[image via newsnextbd & solarnavigator]

SOURCE: The Independent