July 6, 2015   |   Carey Wedler
July 6, 2015
(ANTIMEDIA) Honolulu, HI -- Over the holiday weekend, two Swiss pilots made history when one landed a fully solar powered plane after a five day flight from Japan to Hawaii. The plane has been travelling around the world since March of this year, flown by two pilots who take turns manning the tiny, single-occupancy aircraft. The plane’s most recent successful flight signals new possibilities for sustainable air travel and alternative energy.
The aircraft, called the Solar Impulse 2, is a product of the Solar Impulse project launched in 2002. The project focuses on highlighting the “importance of renewable energy and the spirit of innovation.” True to its goal, the plane uses zero fossil fuel. Instead, it cultivates energy through 17,000 solar cells that power the plane’s propellers and charge its batteries.
This innovation helped pilot Andre Borschberg break the world record for longest solo flight on Friday, taking 118 hours to travel from Nagoya to Honolulu (the record he broke was 76 hours). Borschberg says he did yoga every day to help his body deal with immobility during the long, non-stop flight. The Japan to Hawaii trajectory was the riskiest leg of the ongoing journey because there was nowhere to land in case of an emergency. Nevertheless, his successful landing was met by a crowd of spectators at the Kalaeloa airport outside Honolulu.
Bertrand Piccard, the plane’s other pilot (who has helped transport it around the world since March from Abu Dhabi to India, Myanmar, China and Japan), commented on the technological achievement: “Can you imagine that a solar-powered airplane without fuel can now fly longer than a jet plane? This is a clear message that clean technologies can achieve impossible goals,” he said.
The carbon fiber plane weighs 5,000 pounds and follows decades of previous attempts at solar-powered aviation. While the plane’s ideal speed is 28 mph, that rate can double during the day when the sun’s rays are the strongest. Though this might be a leisurely pace compared to traditional jet speeds (which average over 500 mph and have not increased in years due to issues with fuel economy), the success of the flight indicates significant progress in alternative energy.
The new technology joins other widely popular solar energy advancements such as solar-powered homes, which have gained popularity in recent years. Last week, Japan announced plans to build solar energy plants on abandoned golf courses. The country’s advancements in energy have attracted the interest of other international investors.
As fossil fuels continue to erode the planet and encourage ravenous greed, alternative energy is increasingly widespread. As Solar Impulse summarized, it “wants to mobilize public enthusiasm in favor of technologies that will allow decreased dependence on fossil fuels, and induce positive emotions about renewable energies.”
“Nobody now can say that renewable energies cannot do the impossible,” Borschberg said.
Solar Impulse hopes Piccard and Borschberg’s journey will be “the First Round-The-World Solar Flight, powered only by the sun, with no fuel or polluting emissions.” It is scheduled to fly from Hawaii to Phoenix to an undetermined location in the middle of the U.S. before flying to New York, Europe, and returning to Abu Dhabi later this year. Though it is not yet ready for commercial use, enthusiasts are optimistic that further advancements in technology will soon make widespread, solar-powered travel a possibility.
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