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Solar Impulse hits a historic milestone with over 40,000 km flown without fuel


As I mentioned a couple of days ago, there are a handful of exciting events happening this week: the opening of the first phase of the Gigafactory, India announcing its new ‘solar zones‘ project, and now we have a new development, this time, coming from Solar Impulse.

This company, whose operations and team is based out of Switzerland, has racked up an astonishing 42,000 km (about 26,000 miles) flown on their airplane that is powered exclusively by solar panels in a multi-leg excursion.

For those unaware, Solar Impulse is a team of adventurous and groundbreaking individuals who wish to “explore” and “innovate” for the renewable energy cause by showcasing the ability to fly an airplane for far and long periods of time using only solar energy and how it can benefit society as a whole. To expand, they state ,very clearly, what their intentions are with the company:

Our ambition for Solar Impulse is for the worlds of exploration and innovation to make a contribution to the cause of renewable energies. We want to demonstrate the importance of clean technologies for sustainable development; and to place dreams and emotions back at the heart of scientific adventure.

The two pioneers who pilot this magnificent machine, dubbed the Solar Impulse 2 or SI2, are Bertrand Piccard [founder] and Andre Borschberg [co-founder]. The two have completed many great achievements: from Bertrand completing a round-the-world balloon flight with propane, flying across Europe in the first iteration of their solar plane, and to Andre setting a world record with the longest, and farthest, solo flight from Japan to Hawaii which last almost 118 hours!

While all significant, their accomplishments have led to this very historic moment when Bertrand landed in Abu Dhabi on July 26th, 2016, which capped off their 42,000 km, 21 day and 17 leg journey.

How did they execute such a record? Well, according to NPR, it wasn’t easy. Via Solar Impulses specs page, the SI2 can only sustain an average of about 75 km/h (about 46 mph), reportedly had to stop in Hawaii for repairs on their flight over the Pacific, and encountered some rough environmental factors such as high ground temperatures, thermal currents and no fly zones on Bertrand’s last stint to Abu Dhabi.

All in all, solar planes are not a new concept. But Solar Impulse has taken point on bringing light to the fact that solar energy airplanes and other vehicles can be feasible.

Piccard is quoted in NPR’s article stating…

This is not only a first in the history of aviation; it’s before all a first in the history of energy. I’m sure that within 10 years we’ll see electric airplanes transporting 50 passengers on short to medium haul flights.

The full log of the 17th, and final, leg of the 42,000 km dash can be found here.

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