On June 14, 2011, Andre’ Borschberg guided the giant Solar Impulse from Brussels, Belgium, where the craft had spent the last week as the centerpiece of discussions on green energy and the future of transportation in the European Community, to Le Bourget Field just outside Paris. Nearing its destination, its daylong flight sometimes resembled the mathematical problem called, “the drunkard’s walk,” as Borschberg was vectored around the aerial neighborhoods surrounding Paris to make certain the lightly loaded craft did not run afoul of jetliners’ wakes and could find a slot where the runway did not present residual turbulence.
During the preceding week, VIPs from the European Community gathered aound the airplane in Brussels to discuss the importance of this airplane and these flights. Their “Green Week” discussions evinced talk of necessity and sprouted bits of inspiration.
Viviane Reding, a Vice- President of the European Union and Commissioner on Climate Change, among other responsibilities, said the “event is emblematic” of what European research, humans, and strong character can accomplish. She lauded her friend Bertrand Piccard, co-founder of the Solar Impulse Project and added that she admired his ability to “make the impossible possible.”
Siim Kallas, another Vice-President of the Union, and a Commissioner of Transportation, explained that Europe faces two problems with future transportation, congestion and increasing difficulties in obtaining fuels. He expressed the belief, “That we must move,” to overcome these issues. He expressed admiration for the project, and noted that if it’s possible for this airplane to fly on sunlight, other things are also possible. “If you want to be successful, you should not sleep,” he admonished, “and you should not miss this opportunity to develop.”
Jerzey Buzek, President of the European Parliament and educated as an engineer, noted “Inventions, not only innovations, are of crucial importance” in furthering the work he and others had started in creating initiatives that would make Europe competitive in the new energy future. When asked what it made him feel when he sees something as unique as the Solar Impulse, he responded, “We should not compete by dumping prices… with no protection of the environment or the climate,” but rather compete with new technologies. He compared the Solar Impulse to the landing on the moon, the many inventions and industries that grew from that one effort and which benefited the United States for decades afterward. He noted that Japanese, Chinese, and he hoped, European technologies and industries would grow from this effort and add to their competitiveness in a similar way.
(Editor’s note: Despite the regular pronouncements that Solar Impulse is making the first solar-powered flights between European countries, it does not detract from Picard and Borschberg’s accomplishments to note that an American, Eric Raymond, flew Sunseeker II from Friedrichshafen, Germany to Italy and crossed the Alps in the process two years ago.)