Solar plane (Impulse 2) arrives at Ahmedabad in India

Solar plane (Impulse 2) arrives at Ahmedabad in India

A solar plane designed to fly around the world without a drop of fuel has completed the first sea crossing of its 32,000-kilometer journey. The Solar Impulse 2 successfully crossed the Arabian Sea to reach India during the second leg of its round-the-world odyssey. The Solar Impulse 2 arrived in Ahmedabad after a flight of about 15 hours over the Arabian Sea from Muscat in Oman.




Solar Impulse 2, the world's first airplane flying on solar energy, lands in Ahmedabad March 10, 2015. Credit: REUTERS/JEAN REVILLARD/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS

By relying upon more than 17,000 solar cells covering its wings to provide energy to its bank of batteries and four electric motors, the solar plane can stay airborne virtually forever. (The pilot, of course, cannot.) Sunlight gives Solar Impulse 2 the chance to collect 340 kilowatt-hours of energy per day and recharge its lithium polymer batteries. That allows the solar plane to fly through the night without running out of energy; it climbs to 8,500 meters during the day and descends to just 1,500 meters at night to conserve energy.

On average, the Solar Impulse 2 uses just as much power as a small motorbike over a 24-hour period. It typically flies at speeds between 36 kilometers per hour and 140 kilometers per hour. The solar plane also relies upon a lightweight framework design to stay airborne. Its carbon fiber frame has a 72-meter wingspan larger than that of a Boeing 747-8I jumbo jet, but with a 2,300-kilogram weight equivalent to that of a car.

The human endurance required to fly a solar plane around the world cannot be underestimated. Pilots Bertrand Piccard and AndrĂ© Borschberg plan to switch off on flying the single-seater aircraft with each leg of the journey. But their biggest challenge will come from flying five or six days and nights in a row to cross the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. For those “long haul” flights, the pilots can make use of the solar plane’s reclining seat that allows for quick naps and also conveniently converts into a toilet. Self-hypnosis and meditation techniques will also help the pilots maintain their concentration.

"It's a privilege to fly in an aeroplane like that," pilot Bertrand Piccard told reporters after landing. Piccard and fellow pilot Andre Borschberg will take turns at the controls of Solar Impulse 2, which began its journey in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates on Monday, as it makes its way around the globe in about 25 flight days at speeds of between 50 kph and 100 kph.              

The next stop is Varanasi, the constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has made boosting clean energy a priority for his government. After leaving India, the plane will make stopovers in Myanmar and China before crossing the Pacific Ocean and flying across the United States and southern Europe to arrive back in Abu Dhabi by late July. The aircraft is as heavy as a family car at 2,300 kg but has a wingspan as wide as the largest airliner. The design and construction of the Solar Impulse took 12 years. A first version of the craft rolled out in 2009 and broke records for height and distance travelled by a manned solar plane. (Source: Reuters)

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