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Solar Impulse to wait out bad weather in Japan


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Diverted: Si2 now waiting for take-off in Japan (Keystone)

Diverted: Si2 now waiting for take-off in Japan

(Keystone)

Bad weather has forced the Solar Impulse 2 plane to make an unexpected stop in Nagoya, Japan. Still, the Si2 crew is happy about breaking a new record for longest solar plane flight.

Swiss pilot André Borschberg took off in the solar powered plane from Nanjing, China, at 2:45am local time on Sunday, embarking on what was to be a record-breaking attempt to fly from China to Hawaii. The long-awaited departure came after weeks of weather-related delays. But on Monday, a looming cold front led the team’s mission control in Monaco to ground the Si2 and hastily get permission to land from the Japanese authorities.

The plane landed shortly before midnight on Monday in Nagoya Airfield – also known as Komaki Airport – to wait for another take-off window. The disappointment was tempered by relief that Borschberg had landed safely, and that the 44-hour flight marked a new record.

“Everything we could do has been done, and has been successful – what we cannot control is the weather,” said Bertrand Piccard, founder of the Solar Impulse project, in a live webcast earlier on Monday.

Piccard extended his gratitude to the Japanese, noting that they had been very flexible, even though a landing in Japan was never on the itinerary.

“We are not daredevils, we are explorers,” Piccard added. 

The ocean crossing was originally expected to take six days. It will be the first time a solar-powered plane has travelled so far in one go. 

Solar Impulse 2 is being piloted by Borschberg and Piccard. During the Pacific crossing, Borschberg will have to cope with extreme temperatures and hardly any sleep – 20 minutes at a time at the most. The 62-year-old former Swiss Air Force pilot will use yoga techniques and horizontal exercises in the small cockpit to keep himself fit and awake. 

The Solar Impulse project was launched to build support for clean energy initiatives, especially solar power. Its two stops in China were meant to raise awareness of solar projects in the world’s most populous country. 

After its trip to Hawaii, Solar Impulse will continue across the United States and either southern Europe or northern Africa in several more legs, eventually planning to land back in Abu Dhabi to complete its round-the-world trip later this year.

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