Having circumnavigated the world by balloon and solar-powered aircraft, Bertrand Piccard is ready to make a third around-the-world flight – this time in Solar Airship One, powered by the sun and hydrogen fuel cells. Able to make the 40,000 kilometer (24,855 mile) trip in one gigantic hop, the 151 meters (495.4 feet) long craft will be borne aloft on 50,000 cubic meters (1,766,000 cubic feet) of helium.
Unlike his lonely stints at the controls of Solar Impulse 2, Piccard will be joined by two worthy co-pilots; Dorine Bourneton, “The first disabled woman to become an aerobatic pilot (Bourneton was severely injured at age 16 in an aircraft accident) and Michel Tognini, a former French Air Force fighter pilot and European Space Agency astronaut (Tognini has been twice to space, in 1992 and 1999).”
Its helium sealed in 15 large gas bags that emulate the shape of the airship, the ship carries 50,000 cubic meters (1.77 million cubic feet) of the lifting gas. Solar Airship One keeps that and its inner workings double-wrapped, the two envelope layers maintaining temperature and pressure inside the giant envelope.
Loz Blaine at NewAtlas.com reports the ship’s upper surface will be covered in 4,800 square meters (51,700 square feet) of solar film, noting that’s about nine-tenths of an NFL football field. It’s big enough to provide electricity to power the ship during daylight hours and still bank enough to electrolyze water and produce sufficient hydrogen for overnight operation.
Flying at 6,000 meters (19,690 feet) altitude and following the equator as closely as possible, Solar Airship One will take about 20 days and nights to circumnavigate the globe. Because the ship is self sufficient, it will make the trip totally independent of fueling stations and other ground support. Consider that Solar Impulse 2 made its way with a 60-person crew preparing an inflatable hangar at many stops, transported along the way in a fuel-burning advance aircraft.
Solar Airship One, in stark contrast, “Will make the world’s first zero-carbon, non-stop airship trip around the globe.” This, on a grand scale, is what Eric and Irena Raymond do regularly with their Solar Flight Duo, taking self-sufficient hops around Europe and the Mediterranean region.
New Atlas reports, “During their around-the-world flight, the Euro Airship crew plans to broadcast their activities to schools, academia and governments to raise awareness about the possibilities of this technology. A documentary film is also being planned.”
Bertrand Piccard comes from an adventurous family, his grandfather and father planting the seeds that have given him insights about our planet’s needs and the spirit to show what can be done to save it.
He formed the Solar Impulse Foundation, which boasts “1000+ profitable solutions to protect the environment.” The international non-profit stresses the idea of doing well by doing good in tackling climate issues. Indeed, over 1,000 enterprises are now part of the organization, including H55, an electric aircraft and battery operation headed by Solar Impulse co-pilot Andre’ Borschberg.
An engineer, test pilot, mathematician, and Brigadier General in the French Air Force, Michel Tognini has also ventured into space, receiving the NASA Spaceflight Medal and the V. M. Komarov Diploma from the Federation Aeronautique Internationale. He is qualified as a fighter pilot at all levels and has over 4,300 hours in 80 different types of aircraft.
A member of the Association of Space Explorers (ASE), Michel holds the “l’Ordre de la Légion d’Honneur” and the “Chevalier de l’Ordre National de Mérite.”
From September 1985 to his retirement in November 2011, Tognini was (in part and in turn), an astronaut for the French Space Agency CNES; received spacewalk training for the Soviet-French “Aragatz” mission; was part of the Soviet-French “Antares” mission, trained on the Buran (Russia’s space shuttle) simulator; took Astronaut Candidate Training at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston Texas; and worked on technical issues on the International Space Station.
As noted in his European Space Agency biography, “In January 2005, Michel became Head of the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne, Germany. He left ESA for retirement on 1 November 2011.” He has authored about “200 papers, “speeches and conference [presentations] about Human Spaceflight.”
Dorine Bourneton was the only survivor of an airplane crash when she was 16, becoming a paraplegic as a result of that event. Nevertheless, she flies aerobatic routines in a CAP 10 aircraft today. Her TED Talk at Clermont, France commands the attention of a hushed, almost reverent audience. (Click on the CC to show the closed captions in English.)
Here, she takes her daughter for arrow-straight climbs and well-coordinated maneuvers. There is tremendous trust there.
Here, in what has been described as her elevator pitch, she charms French President Emmanuel Macron with a gift of mission patches that will look great on his well-tailored suit jacket.
The splendid backgrounds for the three crew members who will navigate Solar Airship One around a troubled world could act as an inspiration to others to seek solutions for at least the environmental issues we face. Only with the realization that we face the most existential of questions will we begin to find answers. This will require the intelligence, courage, and willingness to confront challenges exemplified by these heroes.