While you were busy lying out, CES Solar San Diego was watching the Solar Impulse 2, the first solar powered airplane to complete a flight around the world. The plane itself is equipped with more than 17,000 solar cells on the wings, which are wider than those of a Boeing 747.
The journey began in March 2015 in Abu Dhabi, crossed the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans, and didn’t use a drop of fossil fuel during the more than 23 days it spent in the air. During the trip, the plane made stops all around the globe in cities including Muscat, Oman, Varanasi, Chongquing, China, San Francisco, Dayton, and Seville, Spain.
The panels on the wings charge the plane’s batteries during the day and account for roughly a quarter of the plane’s total weight. During the day, the pilot was able to reach 29,000 feet, but at night glided around 5,000 feet in order to conserve power. It’s able to fly at about 30mph, but can go faster when the sun is bright.
While the plane could fly perpetually, grueling conditions aboard make it impossible for the pilots. The two adventurous Swiss pilots who manned the plane switched off during the 16 legs of the trip were only able to take short naps in the unpressurised and unheated cabin. The tough conditions were worth it, not only because the significance of the flight, but also because one of the pilots flew 4,000 miles from Japan to Hawaii, beating the previous record set for longest uninterrupted flight in aviation history.
The trip was not all smooth sailing. Bad crosswinds in 2015 lead to weeks of delays and when the batteries overheated while crossing the Pacific, the plane was forced to stay in a hangar on Hawaii during the winter.
The groundbreaking flight wasn’t about promoting solar aircraft. Instead, it was intended to highlight incredible solar capabilities and showcase the potential of renewable energy.
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