Photos: Solar Impulse 2 survives treacherous Pacific crossing

25 Apr 2016

Pilot Bertrand Piccard taking a selfie mid-flight. Image via Solar Impulse/Jean Revillard: Rezo

Continuing its mission to circumnavigate the globe using a craft powered only by solar power, the Solar Impulse 2 has touched down in California ahead of its final journey to Europe.

Solar Impulse 2 is probably not the future of air travel given that the large craft covered in 17,248 solar panels flies at a maximum speed of just 140kmph, but the challenge has been set for pilots Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg to show that flying electrically can be done.

With the first flight commencing early last year, the craft has travelled the world in separate stages, having originally taken off in Abu Dhabi and taken in Mandalay and Nanking along the way.

Solar Impulse 2 take-off

Solar Impulse 2 takes-off from Hawaii. Image via Solar Impulse/Jean Revillard: Rezo

And now, the aircraft has flown non-stop for 62 hours from Honolulu in Hawaii to the home of Silicon Valley in Mountain View, California after what would have been the most treacherous aspect of the journey due to the obvious lack of emergency landing sites over the Pacific Ocean.

Solar Impulse 2 Golden Gate Bridge

Solar Impulse 2 flying past the Golden Gate Bridge. Image via Solar Impulse/Jean Revillard: Rezo

Most treacherous flight yet

With Piccard and Borschberg alternating flights of the craft as it makes scheduled stops around the world, it was Piccard’s time to take up the flight from Honolulu and, speaking after the plane had landed, he described it as one of the scariest, yet best flights yet.

“You know there was a moment in the night, I was watching the reflection of the moon on the ocean and I was thinking, ‘I’m completely alone in this tiny cockpit and I feel completely confident’, and I was really thankful to life for bringing me this experience,” Piccard said.

“It’s maybe this is one of the most fantastic experiences of life I’ve had.”

Solar Impulse 2 sun

Solar Impulse 2 flying over Hawaii towards San Francisco. Image via Solar Impulse/Jean Revillard: Rezo

Maybe electric flight will be boring in 20 years

The plane now has three more scheduled stops across the US before it takes on the task of flying across one of the other vast oceans of the world, the Atlantic Ocean.

Where the plane eventually makes it final landing is still up for debate as, depending on the weather, it could be either Europe or North Africa.

The Solar Impulse project, which aims to highlight clean energy technologies, particularly when it comes to transportation, has cost $100m to-date but, according to Piccard, he envisions a time when electric-powered aircraft will be ‘routine’.

“Maybe it will be boring in 20 years when all the airplanes will be electric and people will say ‘Oh it’s routine.’ But now, today, an airplane that is electric, with electric engines, that produces its own energy with the sun, it can never be boring,” Piccard said.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic