Solar Impulse 2 aircraft to circumnavigate globe using only solar power

11 Apr 2014

The first solar-powered plane capable of circumnavigating the globe, the Solar Impulse 2, has officially been unveiled in Switzerland with hopes it will be the first in a series of solar-powered aircraft.

Pilots Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg aim to circle the plane – which has a wingspan larger than a Boeing 747 at 236 feet – around the Earth in about 20 days at a maximum speed of just over 140 km/h. That speed slower than one of the most basic fossil fuel-powered aircraft, the Cessna 172.

The Solar Impulse 2 will be completely covered with 17,248 solar cells to power its four electric motors and propellers. During the night, an on-board battery will kick in, using stored energy from the solar cells.

Aside from completing a challenge which has never been done before, the team behind the aircraft hopes it will instigate further innovations both in the technological sense and the environmental sense.

Currently, 2pc of all the world’s carbon emissions originate from the thousands of airlines criss-crossing the globe every minute and the team hopes that with aircraft similar to Solar Impulse 2, we can change how we travel the world.

According to the team’s mission statement: “The next adventures will therefore be humanitarian and medical – combating extreme poverty and containing new epidemics, political – improving our governance of the planet, spiritual – rediscovering profound and soundly based values, and of course technological – providing durable answers to the threats menacing our environment.”

The flight is pencilled in for 2015 and will be undertaken over three months, with both Piccard and Borschberg alternating piloting during the flight.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic