After a battery malfunction, over nine months and no small amount of money, the Solar Impulse 2 will once again try to make its way around the world following its takeoff from Hawaii early on Thursday morning.
Swiss psychiatrist and explorer at the stick of solar plane
When you plane is not laden with a drop of fuel, it’s of the utmost importance that you have sun if solar power is meant to get you around the world. That said, human error is not something that you want to see either. That’s precisely what happened nearly ten months ago when said doctor, Bertrand Piccard, and his partner, Swiss engineer Andre Borschberg were forced to put the plane down on Oahu when they had planned to land in Abu Dhabi.
Borschberg set a record for the longest solo flight of a plane at 117 hours and 52 minutes, but a domino effect of bad forced the plane down in Oahu to inspect damage that was done to the solar-only plane’s batteries. That damage was considerably worse than the team of over 100 expected.
“We made a mistake with our batteries,” Piccard said after the plane touched down in July. “It was a human mistake.”
Solar Impulse 2 back on track?
Following the plane’s takeoff on Thursday, the crew set out of the San Francisco area roughly 2,500 miles away from the runway that saw it resume its trip. While not a terrifically long commercial or private flight when jet fuel is used, the power of the sun only moves this plane at the speed of a car and will talk a bit more that 60 hours to complete (weather permitting).
“It’s a very stable weather window,” Solar Impulse 2 spokeswoman Alexandra Gindroz said.
The plane has a single set of controls so Piccard and Broschberg are always flying solo while taking turns at the stick.
The plane is finicky looking dragonfly with its solar panels and while it (only?) weighs a couple of tons it has the wingspan of a 747.
“Nobody’s done this before,” managing director Gregory Blatt said. “There’s no guidebook. There’s no best practice.”
The plane took off in March last year, and while things went smoothly at first, weather saw their plans put on hold with nasty weather in China and an unplanned landing in Japan saw the plane beat up on the runway in Japan. Following the repairs undergone in Japan, Borschberg piloted the plane for nearly five full days with an oxygen mask at an altitude well above 23,000 feet to give the solar cells the energy (sun) they needed for the trip to Hawaii.
The hope for the team and the pilots is that weather will permit them to make it to the Middle East sometime in August/September after a trip of 27,000 miles.
Ambition never hurt anyone?
This will of course be the first all-solar trip around the world and an accomplishment well beyond its failures. Unfortunately, if the plane makes it around the world its accomplishments will be overshadowed by the difficulties it had and the added expense.
While solar power is key to a world powered by renewable energy this will only be news for a few days before landing and even overshadow events like yesterday’s decision by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors that mandated solar panels on the roofs of all new construction in the city beginning next January.