Solar Impulse, the ultralight, ultra-wide, solar-powered airplane with photovoltaic wings, vying to become the first solar-powered airplane to circumnavigate the globe was recently featured on the respected CBS News 60 Minutes program. During the segment journalist Bob Simon talked with the founders of the $120 million effort, Bertrand Piccard, a doctor, psychiatrist and aeronaut who dreamed of creating the airplane and André Borschberg, the engineer and CEO of the company that designed the plane.
Clean Energy Authority has covered Solar Impulse before, but during the segment the founders discussed some of the plane’s future goals and how it came about. Piccard said his inspiration for dreaming up the project came from his balloon trip around the world. “When I landed there were 40 kilos, 80 pounds of liquid propane out of the 3.7 tons from the takeoff. It was almost a failure from the dependency on the fuel and from that day I made a promise that the next time I fly around the world it would be no fuel at all,” he said.
That was in 1999. It took two decades to get the dream off the ground, and even then—in 2009— it was only for a short hop of flight, according to the team. Since then it’s been making larger and larger leaps, flying at a pace of 30 miles an hour, earlier this year it achieved a 24-hour flight and its longest flight to date. Next year it will go farther. The team plans to fly the plane across the U.S. from California to Virginia.
After that they will continue to lengthen the distance it flies. In preparation for that and the longer flights Borschberg has already spent 72 straight hours in a flight simulator of the minimalist cockpit. And at 30 miles an hour, it’s planned to take about 20 days to fly around the globe, when they make the attempt in 2015. During the flight, they will have to change pilots periodically. The largest challenge being a trans-Pacific ocean flight, which will take 5 days and nights without any land to…well, land on.