Plane Completes its Record-Breaking Flight Around the Globe Using Only Solar Power

July 27, 2016 | Kelly Tatera

Solar Impulse sunset
Photo credit: © Solar Impulse | Revillard |

The Solar Impulse 2 has made history.

Yesterday morning, at about 4:05am local time in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, history was made: the Solar Impulse 2 plane completed its flight around the world, using only natural power from the sun.

The 43,041-kilometer (26,277-mile) journey began back on March 9, 2014, taking off from Abu Dhabi and flying across Asia, the Pacific Ocean, the US, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Middle East.

The plane was dreamt up by Swiss pilots Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg, and the pair took turns flying the plane around the world as it was a single-seater.

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Impressively, this isn’t Piccard’s first eccentric trip around the globe. Back in 199, he flew around the world in a balloon, the Breitling Orbiter 3, completing the non-stop journey in just under 20 days.

The Solar Impulse 2 had a much lengthier journey, completing the travels over 16 months. However, this included a nine-month delay due to a problem with the plane’s battery.

“As we experienced many times with Solar Impulse, obstacles often turn out to be opportunities for improvement,” said Borschberg in a media statement back in April. “Ultimately, this time was used to recreate the strong mindset within the team to continue our adventure. It takes sometimes more time to build up the right spirit then to develop new technologies.”

The first Solar Impulse model was the prototype that proved the technology was actually possible. Improving the model led to the Solar Impulse 2, featuring 17,000 solar cells on its body, protective resins, low density thermal insulation, and a lightweight build.

Will solar-powered planes transform the aviation industry similar to the way in which Tesla’s electric cars are revolutionizing the automobile industry? That remains to be seen, but either way, the Solar Impulse 2’s accomplishment has sent a clear message to the world: clean energy can achieve great things.

“Everybody could use the same [clean] technologies on the ground to halve our world’s energy consumption, save natural resources and improve our quality of life,” the Solar Impulse website states.

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