Just over a century after the Wright brothers piloted the first airplane, which was fueled by gas, history is being made again with a plane powered completely by the sun.
The Solar Impuse 2 took off from Abu Dhabi today in a potentially record breaking flight around the world. It is aimed to be the first plane to fly around the world fueled only by solar power.
Over the next five months, this solar powered plane will skip from continent to continent in a journey that will take it across both the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean. The plane will stop at various locations, including Phoenix and New York, to rest, carry out maintenance, and spread a campaign message about clean technologies.
Pilots Jacques Piccard and Andre Borschbeg will be at the control and they are very confident they will make it to each of the destinations. "We may have to fly for five days and five nights to cross [the Pacific Ocean], and it will be a challenge. But we have the next two months, as we fly the legs to China, to train and prepare ourselves,” says Borschbeg. The pilots will only be permitted 20-minute catnaps while airborne.
The Impulse 2 has a wingspan of 72m, which is wider than a 747 jumbo jet. 17,000 solar cells line the top of the wings and it carries an energy-dense lithium-ion battery, that is needed to sustain flight at night. With all this, the plane still only weighs 2.3 tonnes (less than a SUV). This lightweight is its key to success.