Solar Impulse 2 is a big airplane, with a wingspan greater than that of the Boeing Cargolux carrier that transported it to Abu Dhabi this last weekend. Seeing the craft slipped into the cargo hold of the whale-like Boeing, then disgorged a few hours later, presents an almost mythical vision of leviathans at work and play.
Abu Dhabi, the capital city of the United Arab Emirates, has been named the Host City of Solar Impulse for the first round-the-world solar flight, to be started 50 days from now in March. Following over a score of test flights in Switzerland, HB-SIB was dismantled and packed aboard the 747 that would carry it to the UAE, where it will be prepared for its epic journey. The mission was announced last year in New York at the UAE reception “on the sidelines of” that United Nations General Assembly. Attendees included Swiss, UAE and UN dignitaries along with officials “from over 50 countries represented by Heads of State, Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Heads of Permanent Missions to the United Nations.” Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg, Solar Impulse leaders and the two pilots who will guide the giant airplane on its course, explained the mission and its significance – as much an inspirational adventure as a technical achievement.
Si2 was delivered to Abu Dhabi from the Payerne aerodrome in Switzerland on January 6 and will be showcased during the World Future Energy Summit as part of the Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, to be hosted by Masdar between 17 and 22 January 2015.
Masdar, Abu Dhabi’s renewable energy company, is partner and host to the SI2 team until the airplane’s departure on its globe-girdling circuit, with a return to Abu Dhabi following 25 flying days over a period of four to five months.
Solar Impulse reports: “Masdar has been tasked by the government with investing in and advancing the renewable energy and clean technology industry both domestically and internationally. H. E. Dr. Sultan Ahmad Al Jaber, UAE minister of state and chairman of Masdar said: ‘Abu Dhabi, Masdar and Solar Impulse have in common a pioneering spirit, a long-term vision and a desire to explore new horizons. We share a commitment to foster the development of technological advances in alternative energy sources in order to contribute to a cleaner, more sustainable future.’”
André Borschberg notes, “We have chosen this location as being the best and most suitable departure point for the round-the-world tour, due to its climate, infrastructure and commitment to clean technologies.”
Circling as close to the equator as practicable, the flight will make stopovers in Asia, the United States and in Southern Europe or North Africa before returning to Abu Dhabi in July 2015. Some over-ocean portions will see Solar Impulse over water for five or six days, a task made possible by the airplane’s ability to fly on solar power all day, soak up rays as electricity for its batteries, then cruising at ultralight speeds all night to conserve that stored energy.
Solar Impulse provides the following specifications for SI2. “This revolutionary single-seater aircraft made of carbon fiber has a 72 meter (236 feet) wingspan (larger than that of the Boeing 747-8I) for a weight of just 2,300 kilograms (5,060 pounds), equivalent to that of a car. The 17,000 solar cells built into the wing supply four electric motors (17.5 cv [short for cheveaux, or horsepower] each) with renewable energy. During the day, the solar cells recharge lithium batteries weighing 633 kg (2077 lbs.) which allow the aircraft to fly at night and therefore to have virtually unlimited autonomy.”