Pilots gear up for first circumnavigation of the world by solar-powered aircraft
ABU DHABI // Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg will be hoping for plenty of sunshine when they begin the world’s first circumnavigation by solar-powered aircraft next year.
The pilots are scheduled to take off from Abu Dhabi in March and continue on a journey that will take 25 flying days over four to five months.
Hosted by Masdar, the duo will head to the capital in January for two months of testing and training. They plan to make stopovers in Asia, the United States and in Southern Europe or North Africa, before returning to Abu Dhabi in July.
There were several reasons why Abu Dhabi was selected as the base for the beginning and end of the flight, Mr Borschberg said.
“We have chosen this location as being the best and most suitable departure and return point for the round-the-world tour due to its climate, infrastructure and commitment to clean technologies.”
Over the course of the trip the Swiss pilots, who founded the project, will take turns flying the aircraft, which completed its first test flight in June. Aboard the single-seat aircraft will be six oxygen tanks, one parachute and a life raft.
The flight will reflect well on the UAE as it expands its reach in the solar power industry, said Dr Piccard.
“This well-matched partnership will showcase Abu Dhabi as a centre of expertise when it comes to renewable energy and, at the same time, Solar Impulse will demonstrate the far-reaching applications of clean energy during the first solar-powered flight around the world,” he said.
Some flights over the Pacific and the Atlantic will last five to six days, a feat made possible by the design of Solar Impulse 2.
The aircraft was built with a wider wingspan, more efficient engines and lighter materials than its predecessor. Its wings are 72-metres wide, larger than those on a Boeing 747, and have been fitted with more than 17,000 solar cells. The entire plane weighs less than a Range Rover 4x4.
Dr Piccard and Mr Borschberg founded the Solar Impulse project in November 2003 and partnered with Masdar shortly afterwards.
“Abu Dhabi, Masdar and Solar Impulse have in common a pioneering spirit, a long-term vision and a desire to explore new horizons,” said Dr Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, Minister of State and chairman of Masdar. “We share a commitment to foster the development of technological advances in alternative energy sources in order to contribute to a cleaner, more sustainable future.”
Masdar said that the arrival of Solar Impulse 2 in Abu Dhabi will act as a local and regional catalyst and leave a lasting legacy, inspiring Emirati youth to take an interest in aeronautics, science, clean technology and renewable energy.
During the aircraft’s stay in the capital, school visits and educational workshops will be held, during which students and others will be able to learn about the technologies designed to make a solar-powered circumnavigation.
Masdar said that the choice of Abu Dhabi to host the historical flight reinforces the emirate’s status as a pioneer in solar energy innovation.
“State-of-the-art infrastructure, ideal sunlight and wind conditions for the training and test flights all make Abu Dhabi a natural choice as host city for SI2 from a technical perspective. But there is much more to the decision,” said Dr Nawal Al Hosany, director of sustainability at Masdar and director of the Zayed Future Energy Prize.
“When you add the role Abu Dhabi plays as a leading player in the advancement of renewables and clean technology, then the synergy becomes even clearer. In SI2 we have a fantastic opportunity to showcase our commitment to developing clean energy globally, while also inspiring people across the UAE in the process.”
The plane will be delivered to Abu Dhabi from the Payerne aerodrome in Switzerland towards the end of the year and will be showcased during the World Future Energy Summit as part of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, which is hosted by Masdar from January 17 to January 22.