Solar Impulse 2: Sun-powered plane will be resuming around-the-world flight. The solar-powered Solar Impulse 2, that had to take a break from its circumnavigation in the mid-way last year due to overheated batteries, is now set to resume its epic journey. Solar Impulse 2, the solar-powered plane will be seeking to circle the globe, and is expected to take a stride towards the skies again this coming week, having been grounded for nine months. The aircraft shattered the record for a non-stop solo flight, with pilot André Borschberg staying aloft for five days and five nights as he traversed the Pacific Ocean between Japan and Hawaii, but in the process about half the battery cells overheated. The forced interruption proved invaluable, both for the aircraft, which received some much-needed attention, and for the team’s dynamics, which had suffered under some major disagreements between cockpit and ground staff. “The past eight months have demonstrated the team spirit, embracing setbacks and seeing them as opportunities,” write the Solar Impulse team on their blog. “After replacing the batteries that burned out during the flight from Nagoya to Hawaii, the countdown has now started for the Solar Impulse team to finish what they started, and head back to their departure point: Abu Dhabi.” So the odyssey began in March 2015, with the airplane that almost 5,000 pound craft lifting its enormous wingspan – equivalent to that of any jumbo jet – from the beautiful sands of the United Arab Emirates, for its first short leg to neighbouring Oman.
The single most purpose of this historic effort, as explained on the Solar Impulse website, is “to achieve something that still seems quite impossible today: the first round-the-world solar flight, powered only and only by the sun, with no fuel or polluting emissions.” Clean technology is at the very core of the team’s spirit, with close to 17,000 solar panels blanketing the wings, providing power for the plane to climb almost 28k feet each day, then declining by 5,000 feet during the hours of darkness, when the sun’s energy is unavailable. “Before the flight from Japan there was still a very big question mark,” Mr. Borschberg told the BBC. “Would we be able to do it? Would the airplane be capable? Would we have enough performance to withstand and keep the flight going? And of course this is now done; it has been demonstrated, and we go ahead with the next leg with a high level of confidence.” But the batteries were not the only thing to be strained to the limit during that record-breaking journey.
A perilous back-up system, which provided something akin to an automated co-pilot, failed, leading many of the ground team to call for the flight to be abandoned. When Borschberg refused, adamant the conditions were right and he could make the crossing, several engineers had threatened to resign. The plane and its pilot almost limped to Hawaii, and Solar Impulse flight director Raymond Clerc called in a friend of his – a captain with EasyJet – to help rebuild confidence within the team. And now all that’s needed is a window in the weather, to fly on to the US West Coast, then to New York, an Atlantic crossing and, finally, back to where it all began in Abu Dhabi.