The Solar Impulse 2 sun-powered plane has landed in Hawaii after a historic five-day journey over the Pacific Ocean – the longest and toughest leg of its around-the world voyage.
Swiss pilot André Borschberg landed at Kalaeloa, a small airport outside Honolulu, at 5:55am local time (5:55pm Swiss time), having spent nearly 118 hours in the air on solar power alone. It is the first time this feat has been accomplished in the world of aviation, Solar Impulse says.
“Five days, five nights, we're down,” said the team’s commentator on the live feed of the event, as his colleagues clapped and cheered.
Later, Borschberg appeared at the door of the cockpit, smiling, freshly shaven and with a traditional Hawaiian flower wreath around his neck. “I feel so much joy,” he said of his experience.
He was met in Hawaii by his team-mate and business partner, the Swiss adventurer Bertrand Piccard, with whom he is sharing flying duties in the single-seater plane.
He added that he did not really feel exhausted, which astonished him. He attributed this to all the messages of support he had received during the flight which “gave me energy”. He was, however, looking forward to a shower, as well as meeting the organisers of the Hawaii stopover.
The record shattered the distance and duration world records for manned solar-powered planes – set by Solar Impulse itself earlier on the project. American Steve Fossett had held the previous record for the longest nonstop solo flight, which he achieved in 2006 in the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer. At that time, he flew for 76 consecutive hours.
The flight from Nagoya, Japan, was also the riskiest for the Solar Impulse because the plane had nowhere to land in an emergency. Borschberg had been navigating alone in an unheated and unpressurised cockpit, sleeping in bursts of 20 minutes while on autopilot.
The Solar Impulse team had waited in Japan for about a month while conducting repairs and waiting 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 35,000-km global journey started in Abu Dhabi on March 9. Overall, the plane’s trip is expected to span roughly 25 flight days broken up into 13 legs at speeds of 50-100kph.
Piccard – who made the first non-stop global circumnavigation in a balloon – will take on the next leg from Honolulu to Phoenix, Arizona. After that there are 4 legs until the plane returns to Abu Dhabi.
The Si2 weighs about as much as a car but has a wingspan as wide as the largest passenger airliner. It is intended as a demonstration of the current powers of solar power. The pilots are thus using the project to create awareness about replacing fossil fuels with clean technologies.
“Can you imagine that a solar-powered airplane without fuel can now fly longer than a jet plane!” Piccard said in a statement earlier on Friday. “This is a clear message that clean technologies can achieve impossible goals.”
swissinfo.ch and agencies