The world’s first all-electric transatlantic flight has taken off from Abu Dhabi on a round-the-globe trip.Solar Impulse 2 is expected to spend the next five months navigating the world in the hands of Swiss pilots Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg in a demonstration of technology they believe could revolutionise the future of air travel.
The 12-leg journey will see the plane heading to Oman, then over India, into China, then across the pacific and the US before crossing the Atlantic into Europe before finally landing back in Abu Dhabi.
The first leg of the journey will see the craft fly for 400km (249 miles).
The 2.3 tonne plane has a top speed of 87mph, some 527mph slower than Boeing’s commercial 747.
It can carry just one passenger compared with Boeing’s capacity to carry 524, but whereas the 747 pumps out 101KG of Co2 emissions every thousand kilometres, the Solar Impulse 2 emits precisely zero.
That will excite climate campaigners.
The plane’s wingspan is 72 metres – some 3.5m wider than the 747 – but this allows it to sport 17,000 solar panels which produces enough electricity to power the flight and to charge the 633Kg lithium batteries which account for a quarter of its total weight.
Despite its large size, the pilot’s cabin is smaller than that of a car. The flight requires intense concentration throughout the five to six day maximum flight time.
Long sleeps are out of the question with both men having to take 20 minute power naps every two to four hours and both are restricted to their multifunctional flight chairs which act as a seat, a bed and a lavatory.
The Swiss pilots say their aim is to create awareness about replacing “old polluting technologies with clean and efficient technologies”.
It’s slow, it’s uncomfortable and for commercial purposes, it’s entirely impractical but the Solar Impulse 2’s pilots will hope that its green credentials and cutting edge technology will prompt the aviation industry to pay attention to its potential for the future.