Solar Impulse II Successfully Completes Trip Around the World

The idea constructed by two visionaries in 2004 finally became a reality.
Interesting Engineering

Solar Impulse II makes a mark in history by becoming the first solar-powered plane to completely circle the Earth.

The journey began with a vision in 2004 to write the next chapter in aviation history and make the seemingly impossible a reality, Wired reports. Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg dreamt up the idea to fly around the world using only solar power- a world first.

“Our ambition for Solar Impulse is for the worlds of exploration and innovation to make a contribution to the cause of renewable energies. We want to demonstrate the importance of clean technologies for sustainable development; and to place dreams and emotions back at the heart of scientific adventure,” says Piccard.

After many years of dedication that rarely veered far from frustration, the team engineered the finalized version of the Solar Impulse II. The journey began in Abu Dhabi where it recently returned once again. Along the way, the team managed to pull off amazing feats, such as flying for four days straight to Japan, setting a record in the process of the longest solar-powered flight. The team persisted on through a 40,000 km journey that took them around the world.

While the accomplishment marks a happy ending to a long journey, it was never far from failure. The team came across many critical issues that required great skill and determination to persist through. One of the greatest problems was trying to overcome the -10° C frigid temperatures while flying over the Atlantic. Piccard, one of the pilots who made the record journey across the Atlantic to Hawaii had to fight hypothermia the whole way. Critical components had to be left out to save weight and energy. Unfortunately, a heater was one of them.

But the flight almost did not make it past the first day from Japan due to overheating battery troubles. Just one day after leaving Japan, the batteries began to reach critical operating temperatures. The support engineers back at home discussed whether or not to continue the flight because if the batteries overheated too much, it could potentially become fatal. Ultimately, the decision was left to Piccard to call, and he decided to persist through. However, the craft did not go unharmed as the batteries suffered irreversible damage that saw the flight get stalled for months as replacement parts were recovered.

Now, after months of repairs and delays, Solar Impulse II has finally achieved the impossible. While the team left a mark in history, their real mission is to set a new beginning to use renewable energies already available to save the planet.

The team first had to design an aircraft in which to take the two pilots around the world. The odd design was said to be impossible, however, in the end, the engineers successfully completed a functional design. With the wingspan of a jumbo 747, the weight of a family car, powered by the equivalent energy produced by a motorcycle, the plane is an engineering marvel- and also the world's largest aircraft for its weight.

"To build an airplane of the size of a 747 with the weight of a car, something which was considered impossible by the aviation industry, we had to develop the right mindset in order to push the limits of the technologies. With Partners who believed in the same vision, we developed solutions to make our airplanes very energy efficient. All these technologies can be used today in other applications to make our world more energy efficient as well," says André Borscherg.

The team is not stopping now, however. They are currently in the works of developing other solar aircraft, including a solar-powered drone. The future of transportation is being revolutionized, with gas prices on the rise, and several environmental damages, the time could not be soon enough.

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