Solar Impulse Flying From China to Hawaii
The team behind Solar Impulse, the solar-powered airplane, is preparing for its most perilous journey yet—a five or more day trek across the the Pacific Ocean, which will be the longest leg of the worldwide flight. The plane and its pilot will fly for at least five straight days and nights as it crosses the Pacific Ocean and arrives at Hawaii. It will be the longest duration of flight by one pilot—ever—not just the longest duration flight for a solar-powered plane.
The team, headed by pilots and Co-Founders Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg, planned to launch this leg of its worldwide journey as early as this week. However, weather conditions—namely rain—prevented the plane from taking off this week. The team now says it plans for the plane to take off as soon as May 12.
The first and longest leg of the trans-Pacific flight will be piloted by Borschberg, who will be confined to a 3.8 square meter cockpit for the duration of the 5,078 mile flight (read about the challenges here). "This is the moment of truth. If successful, this flight to Hawaii will demonstrate the credibility of the vision Bertrand had 16 years ago of an airplane flying for days without fuel to change our mindset regarding the enormous potential of clean technologies and renewable energies,” he said.
The flight will require a five or six day window of relatively decent weather to allow Borschberg to pilot the plane without needing to make any sort of emergency landing. By the time he comes close to Hawaii the weather reports the team relied on to set him on the journey will be about six days old, which means conditions could be significantly different than originally anticipated.
“This is the exploration leg of the flight around the world,” Piccard said. “It will be an important milestone for aviation with an airplane capable for the first time ever to fly with unlimited endurance. This represents an extraordinary illustration of technological innovation which André initiated and led during the last 12 years.”
If they are successful in making it to Hawaii Bertrand will helm the next leg of the journey, flying from Hawaii, across the rest of the Pacific Ocean to Phoenix, Ariz.
The pilots and team are attempting to stretch what people think are the possibilities of solar power and are using the plane as the centerpiece of that endeavor. At the same time they have organized press and education events at each stop to show people around the world—in the Northern Hemisphere—what the possibilities of solar are.