The Swiss team who, last year, made several flights including one from New York to California in a solar-powered aircraft, just won’t quit. Today at Payerne Air Field in Switzerland, Bertrand Piccard unveiled his company’s latest plane, the Solar Impulse 2. In 2015, they plan to use it to circumnavigate the globe.
“The first airplane, for us, was a prototype — a flying test bench,” said Andre Borschberg, the co-pilot along with Bertrand who flew the first version around the world in 2013.
The latest version, which has 17,000 solar cells, is lighter than the first thanks to better carbon composite materials and thinner solar panels. It has a longer wingspan (236 feet compared to 208 feet) and can also go faster (87 mph compared to 50 mph).
Beginning next month, the team will start test flights with the new craft and are aiming to attempt their around-the-world flight in March, 2015. The timing is crucial in order to hit different parts of the globe at its sunniest. The itinerary shows them taking off from the Persian Gulf region, flying over the Arabian Sea at a cruising altitude at about 27,000 feet, toward India, Burma, China, and then over the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean toward the West Coast of the United States. They will cross the country, fly over the Atlantic Ocean and finish in southern Europe or North Africa.
The flight will not be non-stop. Rather each pilot will take turns flying the plane for five-day stretches.
As the plane did when it flew over the United States, Solar Impulse 2 will beam video and flight data over the Internet for fans to follow.
“It’s not the easiest way to fly around the world,” Piccard said at the press event, “but it’s probably the most spectacular way we can achieve today to really attract the awareness of the political world, the media, the industries, the economy, to show what we can do with renewable energy.”
Credit: FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images