ABU DHABI // A dream that started 17 years ago was fulfilled when Solar Impulse 2 landed at 4am on Tuesday in Abu Dhabi, after flying around the world without a single drop of fuel.
Solar Impulse completed its circumnavigation using only solar energy after what proved to be the one of the journey’s most difficult legs, as pilot Bertrand Piccard had to battle turbulence throughout the flight.
Mr Piccard arrived back in Abu Dhabi, where Solar Impulse started in March last year, after taking off from Cairo on Sunday and flying for about 48 hours. With co-pilot Andre Borschberg, he has flown more than 40,000 kilometres and for more than 500 hours during 16 legs of the Masdar-sponsored journey.
History is made
■ A call for action as Solar Impulse touches down in Abu Dhabi
■ Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed hails Solar Impulse as ‘a new beginning’
■ Emirati Solar Impulse team member reflects on historic journey
■ Solar Impulse 2 touches down in Abu Dhabi completing zero-fuel circumnavigation - in pictures
■ Solar Impulse pilots’ emotional return to Abu Dhabi as dream is realised
■ Solar Impulse 2 completes zero-fuel journey around the world - graphic
■ Solar Impulse 2 lands in Abu Dhabi - video
“This was a life-long journey for me. This was a moment that I dreamt about and that I wanted to share with everyone in a message that the future is clean,” Mr Piccard said.
Along the way, the Swiss duo broke eight records, and the landing in Abu Dhabi was put in the books as the ninth – the first round-the-world flight using zero fossil fuels and only the power of the Sun.
On Monday, Masdar chief executive spoke to Mr Piccard, telling him that Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, “has been following up on all steps taken since the departure of Solar Impulse from Abu Dhabi, and he sends you his best regards and welcomes you back to Abu Dhabi”.
The return to Abu Dhabi proved to be one of the most difficult flights, Mr Piccard said. Aside from not sleeping, Mr Piccard had to stabilise the plane at less-than-ideal situations throughout the flight. At one point, the pilot responded to a request to increase the speed, saying “for your information, I am still on the toilet”.
To calm his nerves, the team held a small concert with violinist Zhang Zhang performing live in the mission control room in Monaco, and broadcasted it live to the pilot.
However, the flight was more emotional than it was difficult, Mr Piccard said. He addressed the team directly to expressed his gratitude.
“I thank you so much for having trusted me in something that was completely crazy,” he said.
“You are always with me in the cockpit. You chose adventure, you chose exploration, you chose to do something amazing, and I thank you so much.
“In the beginning, I did not know if it was a good idea. I think it became a great idea, thanks to you, and thanks for all the people who came with me.”
Mr Borschberg also addressed his colleague during the flight.
“I think you will spend the next hours thinking about the flight, all the human moments and all the energy we have,” he said. “I think you will enjoy it.”
Mr Piccard reflected on the significance of the solar aircraft.
“I can look at the four motors, I can see them energised on nothing but the Sun,” he said moments before landing. “I look at it and it is like science fiction, it is like magic, but this is the reality and the future.”
After landing, Mr Piccard made his rounds hugging the members of his teamaat Al Bateen Executive Airport as the Solar Impulse was pulled into the makeshift hangar for the last time.