Solar Impulse completes toughest leg yet to arrive in China

The Solar Impulse (Si2) aircraft has arrived in China on the fifth leg of its epic global circumnavigation, marrying for the first time the world’s largest solar market with the industry’s most ambitious technological innovation.

The Si2 left Mandalay in Burma on Monday, at 3.36 am local time, embarking on its most challenging flight to date that took the solar-powered aircraft high above the mountainous Chinese provinces of Yunnan and Sichuan, arriving 20 hours and 29 minutes later at Chongqing Jiangbei International Airport.

This arduous leg of the journey saw the Si2 cover 1,459 kilometers and rise to new altitudes, forcing Swiss pilot Bertrand Piccard to wear an oxygen mask as the aircraft glided through strong winds of 40 knots and -20c temperatures.

Welcoming Piccard and the Si2 crew at Chongqing airport was Swiss Ambassador to China, Jean-Jacques de Dardel, alongside the Deputy Secretary General of Chongqing Municipal Government, Ai Yang. The arrival of Si2 coincides with the 65th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two nations, and the Solar Impulse team will use the occasion to extol the virtues of sustainable energy and development.

China leads the way in solar PV installations, with analysts IHS forecasting that the country will install more than 17 GW of new PV capacity this year alone.

However, the arrival of Si2 still carries a strong and potent message for China, and the team will today visit a school in the region – together with its host partners CAST (Chinese Association of Science and Technology) – to spread the message of a future driven by clean, renewable energy.

"China has become number one in wind power and solar panel production, and if you look at how much effort the Chinese government is making to increase the use of renewable energy to optimize the energy mix, there is no surprise that Solar Impulse is so well received in the country," said Bertrand Piccard and fellow pilot, Andre Borschberg.

The next leg of the journey will see Borschberg take to the skies and head to Nanjing provided the Si2’s batteries have enough juice in them for a short hop. One solar cell was damaged in Mandalay, meaning that the aircraft’s capacity to capture solar energy has been reduced by around 2%.

The Solar Impulse journey began in Abu Dhabi on March 7, and the round-the-world-journey is expected to be complete some time in July.