Solar Impulse 2: 11 Images From Its Awe-Inspiring Journey - InformationWeek

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6/19/2016
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Solar Impulse 2: 11 Images From Its Awe-Inspiring Journey

If Solar Impulse 2 successfully completes its planned journey through Europe and back to the Middle East, it will have accomplished something previously believed impossible: heavier-than-air flight fueled only by the power gleaned from the sun's rays.
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Would you want to fly around the world in an airplane powered only by the sun?

The two pilots handling Solar Impulse 2 have been doing exactly that. The solar-powered airplane set out from Abu Dhabi, in the UAE, on March 9, 2015, and is making its way around the world in a sequence of long hops. It's doing so without using a drop of aviation fuel. Its 236-foot wingspan is covered with solar panels, allowing Solar Impulse 2 to generate all the power its four electric propeller engines need for flight.

After leaving Abu Dhabi, the aircraft faced a nine-month layover in Hawaii. Its batteries needed to be replaced and a new manual cooling system installed and tested. Solar Impulse 2 reached the US mainland April 23, 2016.

(Editor’s note: Solar Impulse 2 took off at 2:30 am ET from JFK on June 20, headed for Seville, Spain. Live streaming of the Atlantic crossing can be found here.)

At press time, the plane was scheduled to depart John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York for its Atlantic crossing on the morning of June 20. If the aircraft successfully continues its planned journey through Europe and back to the Middle East, it will have accomplished something previously believed impossible: heavier-than-air flight fueled only by the power gleaned from the sun's rays.

[Want to learn about Solar Impulse's Silicon Valley stop? Read Solar Impulse Flight Makes Silicon Valley Stopover.]

The aircraft is manned by two Swiss pilots, Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg. Piccard flew the plane from Hawaii to San Francisco, landing the unwieldy aircraft on April 23 at Moffet Field near Mountain View, Calif.

After landing in Mountain View, in the heart of Silicon Valley, the pair visited other US cities: Phoenix; Tulsa, Okla.; Dayton, Ohio; and Lehigh Valley, Pa., northwest of Philadelphia. A planned flight to New York City was cancelled June 7 due to bad weather, and then successfully completed a few days later, on June 11.

Piccard and Borschberg are now positioned to undertake what will be perhaps the most hazardous leg of the journey: a flight across the Atlantic. Although they may try a direct eastward dash to Paris, they are more likely to take the northern route, as Charles Lindbergh did in 1927.

On the northern route, the Solar Impulse 2 can find an emergency airfield along the way by sticking near the New England shoreline and that of the Canadian Maritime provinces. After skirting Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, the aircraft can fly over water and soon reach Greenland, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, and then Ireland. Authorities can be notified and rescue vessels ready along each segment of the route.

Its broad wingspan makes the aircraft vulnerable to storms, which can blow up quickly over the Atlantic any time of year. High winds in the upper atmosphere can blow it off course. A gust of wind that tilts it more than 8.5 degrees is capable of plunging it into a dive from which the pilot may not be able to recover.

Still, Lindbergh made it across the ocean 89 years ago in the Spirit of St. Louis, beating the 10:1 odds Lloyds of London had placed against him making it. Lindbergh's fragile aircraft would now be considered archaic. (His forward view was obstructed by the plane's gas tank.) If the Spirit of St. Louis could make the trip almost a century ago, why isn't Solar Impulse 2 assured of completing the same journey?

With our frequent travel on jetliners, we have forgotten (or prefer not to ponder) how hazardous it can be to fly across an ocean. But, a little more than two weeks before Lindbergh accomplished his crossing, Charles Nungesser and Francois Coli took off from Paris in their custom-built Levasseur PL8, the White Bird, trying to reach New York City before anyone else did. After leaving the coast of France, the big biplane flew out to sea and was never seen again.

Like Lindbergh, Piccard is scheduled to attempt the Atlantic crossing by himself. He has even suggested he may try to land at the same airport as Lindbergh did, Le Bourget, outside Paris.

Unlike Lindbergh, one thing Piccard isn't worried about is running out of fuel. Solar Impulse 2 can generate replacement energy as fast as it uses it. Nevertheless, a life raft is carried in the small cockpit. Just in case.

(All images courtesy of Solar Impulse 2)

Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek and author of Management Strategies for the Cloud Revolution, a McGraw-Hill book. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld and former technology editor of Interactive ... View Full Bio

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melgross
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melgross,
User Rank: Ninja
6/26/2016 | 9:24:06 AM
Re: Congratulations, Solar Impulse 2
I certainly applaud this effort, and I'm grateful that it finished. By the way, my uncle was the doctor who examined Lindberg when he arrived back here, these long years ago.
Charlie Babcock
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Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
6/23/2016 | 5:45:10 PM
Congratulations, Solar Impulse 2
Solar Impulse 2 made it to the airport at Seville, Spain, in 71 hours and 8 minutes. Congratulations to pilot Bertrand Piccard, who stopped by the Silicon Valley April 28 enroute to Seville. The whole team is illustrating that energy from the sun can be converted into electricity to do tasks in real time that were thought implausible for solar power to undertake. Piccard had to avoid cloudy areas enroute and fortunately didn't run into any unanticipated storms, which could have upended his craft.
Charlie Babcock
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Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
6/20/2016 | 11:50:50 AM
Solar Impulse 2 is crossing the Atlantic
Solar Impulse took off early Monday morning June 20 to cross the Atlantic for Sevilla, Spain, the route with the most favorable weather conditions. As Melgross notes, it's a flimsy plane with its four engines generating only 70 horsepower (17.4 hp each). Let's hope it makes it. It is a light, underpowered aircraft that will be endangered by gusts of wind. Due to arrive late Thursday by Eastern U.S. time.

 
melgross
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melgross,
User Rank: Ninja
6/19/2016 | 11:42:16 PM
Re: No commercial use? Au contraire...
Well, he's got some skin in the game after all, so I'm not surprised he's said that. But I've done some of my own calculations, and I can't find a way that solar power can supply enough power for anything other than very light weight, flimsy aircraft. Admittedly my physics minor was taken some time ago, but I still follow this in my journals. There just isn't enough surface area on an aircraft to supply that power. The plane here is an experimental one, and therefor doesn't have to meet safety, reliability or performance standards. A commercial aircraft is a totally different thing altogether. And remember, this thing travels at 40 miles per hour. Going to 60 would require about twice the power.
Charlie Babcock
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Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
6/19/2016 | 7:57:01 PM
No commercial use? Au contraire...
melgross, I would have agreed with you three months ago. Now I'm not so sure what's practical or impractical. Pilot Piccard predicted in San Jose April 28 that within 10 years, commercial airlines will be making flights with up to 50 passengers in electricity-driven  planes. At this point, I'm going to say he's got a good chance of being right. They could be very efficient for short-hop, commuter-type flights.
melgross
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melgross,
User Rank: Ninja
6/19/2016 | 12:30:18 PM
Great fun!
While this gives something nice (for a change) to read about, in reality, it's not practical. We won't see commercial airliners using solar energy. So while this is an advertisement for renewable power, something I'm all for, it's nothing more than a stunt, and that's too bad.
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