Solar Impulse 2 completes electric round-the-world trip

26 Jul 2016

Solar Impulse 2 approaching Abu Dhabi. Image via Solar Impulse

Solar Impulse 2, the electric-powered aircraft, has completed its historic round-the-world trip as a message that clean-energy aircraft have a place in future air travel.

With a total journey time of well over a year, the trip embarked upon by Solar Impulse 2 was certainly not one of necessity, but the organisers are now calling on people to stand up and take notice of a new type of air travel.

Split into multiple journeys, the aircraft started its journey from Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in March 2015 and, during the middle of the night on 26 July, touched down once again in the UAE capital.

The last flight took just over two days, taking off from Cairo on the morning of 24 July with pilots Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg alternating control of the craft as it passed across Egypt and over Saudi Arabia.

The total world journey covered 42,000km, with the longest leg of the trip seeing Solar Impulse 2 cross the Pacific Ocean from Nagoya in Japan to Hawaii in the US, covering 8,924km over the course of a 118-hour non-stop flight.

This made it not only the longest uninterrupted solo flight in history but, throughout its flight, Solar Impulse 2 broke 19 other aviation records.

When the aircraft was revealed in 2014, the project looked ambitious to say the least with a wingspan larger than a Boeing 747 at 236ft covered, with 17,248 solar cells to power its four electric motors and propellers.

With a maximum speed of just 140km/h, Solar Impulse 2 was never going to be a world-beater in terms of time-efficient travel, but it has now spread the message that a totally electric-powered aircraft is possible.

 ‘Journey to a sustainable world is just beginning’

Adding to this sentiment after landing, Piccard said to The Guardian: “I worked for 15 years to have [this] demonstration of the improvements of these technologies, so now I really want to leverage this demonstration and create a world council for clean technologies.

“That will allow all these experts and specialists to advise the governments and big corporations on which types of technology to use to profitably fight climate change and profitably protect the environment.”

During the final leg of the flight, United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon,spoke with Piccard over a livestream during which he commended the Solar Impulse 2 team’s effort, saying: “You may be ending your journey, but the journey to a sustainable world is just beginning. You are helping to pilot us to that future.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic