Two Swiss pilots, Bertrand Piccard (a precursor to Star Trek’s Captain Jean-Luc perhaps?) and André Borschborg are currently attempting the heretofore impossible; they want to fly around the world in a solar-powered plane. Another daring pilot, Raphaël Dinelli is attempting something similar. He is flying a hybrid plane that partially relies on solar energy (as well as biofuels). It does, however, fly completely without carbon emissions, meaning it doesn’t have any negative impact on the environment, unlike all commercial flights that operate currently.
The Swiss plane, called Solar Impulse 2, started its flight in Abu Dhabi, where it is also set to finish. The two pilots have so far completed about half of their journey. However, they are currently stranded in Hawaii, due to an overheated battery and awaiting repairs before they can cross the Pacific safely. Due to this unforeseen delay, it may end up being a case where the French plane will complete the trip across the ocean first.
The French Eraole, which only uses 20% solar energy (biofuels and wind power make up the rest of its energy needs), may just complete its journey first. However, both flights are destined to go down in history; one as the first carbon emission-free flight around the world (Eraole), and the other as the first completely solar-powered one (Solar Impulse 2).
The Swiss Solar Impulse 2 has already traveled an amazing distance, having made it from Abu Dhabi to Northern Africa, across the Atlantic to New York, then onwards across the USA, and ultimately onto Hawaii, where they are doing repairs and preparing for what will most likely be the most taxing part of their journey.
For five days and five nights, they will be mid-air as they attempt to get from Hawaii to Japan. The reason that an otherwise six-hour flight is going to take this long is that, due to the way the plane is constructed, they are unable to maintain cabin pressure or use a heating system, so their flight must maintain a slower pace in order to maximize the crew’s safety.
Once in Japan, their journey will continue onwards and through China, Myanmar, India, and Oman, before finally returning to Abu Dhabi where their epic journey originated. By contrast, the French Eraole is taking a much easier route; its course is set from New York to Paris; a 2-and-a-half-day flight (instead of the usual seven hours) in an unpressurized cabin, like the Solar Impulse 2, without even enough space for the pilot stretch his legs. Dingell will be forced to breathe air very low in oxygen content, meaning that he will need to maintain a huge amount of concentration if he is to successfully complete his journey.
While the same applies to both Swiss pilots, their plane is somewhat bigger and allows for a little more space to move and breathe. That said though, it has no particular amenities beyond the absolute necessities required for the five-day flight. Once Solar Impulse 2 is repaired and the necessary preparations are complete, Piccard and Borschberg are going to set off on their record-breaking journey.
These two also hold the current record for the first solar airplane ever to fly through the night, between two continents and across the United States, on board their prototype plane; the Solar Impulse 1. They are now looking to add the first round-the-world flight in a solar airplane to their impressive list of accomplishments.
Should they be successful, we could be bearing witness to a new and exciting era of carbon-neutral aviation.