Solar Impulse takes off on 6-day single leg Pacific flight
The innovative solar-powered aircraft, Solar Impulse 2 (SI 2), has left the ground for the longest single leg of its quest to fly over the Pacific Ocean non-stop for six days and nights.
André Borschberg of Switzerland was one of the two aviators of the SI 2, which took off from the eastern Chinese city of Nanjing at about 2:40 am local time (1840 GMT) on Sunday.
After flying over a distance of 8,500 kilometers (5,270 miles) across the Pacific Ocean, the single-seat aircraft is scheduled to land in Hawaii.
Organizers said that the distance flown by a single pilot, during the seventh and longest section of this project, could set a new world record.
SI 2, which arrived at China’s Chongqing airport on March 31,was due to fly only after a short stop. However, weather issues hampered the flight and kept it on ground for two months.
“We have a good weather window, which means we have a stable corridor to reach Hawaii,”said the 62- year-old pilot shortly before going into the cockpit. “I cross my fingers and I hope to cross the Pacific.”
SI2 embarked on its landmark round-the-globe flight from the UAE’s capital, Abu Dhabi, on March 9. The solar-powered aircraft is scheduled for 12 legs, with a total flight time of around 25 days.
“Now is the moment just to demonstrate what this airplane can do -- fly day and night with no fuel,” said the other Swiss pilot, Bertrand Piccard, who has flown SI2 on previous stages and was the first person to circumnavigate the globe in a hot air balloon in 1999.
Ocean a threat
SI2, which is powered by more than 17,000 solar cells built in its 72-meter wings, will fly as high as 28,000 feet (8534.4 meters) over the Pacific. The altitude is close to the world’s highest summits.
The sea leg poses the greatest challenge for the team in case of any loss of power over the water, which would leave the pilot no alternative but to jump out with a parachute, and await rescue by boat.
“In the worst case, we have a parachute, we have a life raft and we know how to use it.” Borschberg said expressing hope that the plane would not fail. “I don’t see it (as) risky, in the sense that we worked a long time on all these different questions.”
The aviation industry previously ridiculed the pilots’ idea when it was first unveiled. However, Borschberg and Piccard have run the project after 13 years of research and testing. SI2 is scheduled to return to Abu Dhabi in July.