The Solar Impulse 2 sun-powered plane, currently en route across the Pacific Ocean, has broken world records for the furthest solar-powered flight and the longest such flight performed by a solo pilot.
The records were achieved when pilot André Borschberg had flown for 80 consecutive hours – a total distance of 5,663 kilometres. American Steve Fossett had held the previous record for the longest solo solar-powered flight, which he achieved in 2006 on the Virgin Atlantic Global Flyer. At that time, he flew for 76 consecutive hours.
The Solar Impulse 2 (Si2) has now covered about 86% of the latest leg of its journey, from Nagoya, Japan, to Hawaii in the United States. It’s considered to be the most difficult segment of the plane’s trip around the world.
The Solar Impulse team waited in Japan for about a month while conducting repairs and watching for an ideal weather window for the Nagoya-Hawaii flight. Borschberg began the journey on June 28 but the team did not announce the plane had taken off until it had reached the “point of no return” on its flight to Hawaii, about 12 hours in.
“The first 24 hours were very technical,” Borschberg said. “It took me a while to create a relationship of trust with the airplane, which allows me to rest and eventually sleep for periods of 20 minutes with the autopilot. The experience of flight is so intense that I can only focus on the present moment and discover how to deal with my own energy and mindset.”
The plane took off from Abu Dhabi in March on the 35,000-km global journey. Overall, the trip is expected to span approximately 25 flight days broken up into 12 legs at speeds of between 50 and 100 kph.
The Si2 weighs about as much as a car but has a wingspan as wide as the largest passenger airliner. Studies, design and construction took 12 years and a first version of the craft rolled out in 2009 broke records for heights and distances travelled by a manned solar plane.
swissinfo.ch and agencies