We have lift-off: Solar Impulse begins round-the-world journey

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The world’s first solar-powered circumnavigation attempt began today as the Solar Impulse 2 (Si2) aircraft took off from Abu Dhabi at 07:12 local time this morning.

Swiss pilot Andre Borschberg was entrusted with commencing the historical first leg of a journey that is expected to take five months as the solar-powered plane heads eastwards over India, Burma, China, the Pacific Ocean, the U.S., the Atlantic, southern Europe and back to Abu Dhabi some time around late July.

Fitted with 17,248 SunPower monocrystalline solar cells across the aircraft’s 72-meter wingspan, tailplane and fuselage, the Si2 is entirely powered by the sun, storing excess energy in its four lithium ion batteries attached two to a wing.

Over the course of the 35,000km journey, Borschberg will share piloting duties with fellow Swiss aviator and Solar Impulse founder Bertrand Piccard, swapping in and out approximately every five days. Both pilots trained themselves to sleep in short, 20-minute sessions, using yoga and meditation techniques to ensure that they are as sustainably energetic as the plane itself.

A dedicated ground crew will guide the plane, with the journey relayed to interesting onlookers via the Solar Impulse website. "I am confident we have a very special aeroplane, and it will have to be to get us across the big oceans," said Borschberg.

Carrying the solar message

In November, pv magazine heard how Piccard wants the journey to carry the message that solar energy – and all forms of renewables – can carry the world into a new era and finally do away with our dependence on fossil fuels.

While the Si2 aircraft itself is not intended to ever carry passengers, its aim is to inspire people to think differently about how the world consumes energy.

The aircraft will manage an average speed of just 70 km/h, but Piccard is confident that the message the plane carries will propel an altogether faster adoption of clean technology.

"I had this dream 16 years ago of flying around the world without fuel [Piccard was the first man to circumnavigate the globe in a hot air balloon], just on solar power," he said. "Now we’re about to do it. The passion is there and I look forward so much to being in the cockpit."

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