Flying an airplane fueled only by the sun is not only possible, it has been done with great success. Early yesterday morning, the solar-powered plane named Solar Impulse 2 landed in California after flying over the Pacific ocean, a route that precluded emergency landings. The 62-hour non-stop flight began in Kalaeloa, Hawaii on April 21st and covered almost 2500 miles.
Solar Impulse 2 began its history making flight around the world over a year ago in March, 2015 when pilots Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg took off from Abu Dhabi. Since then the plane has made stops in Oman, Myanmar, China, Japan and Hawaii. About 17,000 solar cells cover its expansive wings that are longer than those on a Boeing 747 and provide enough power for the propellers and for charging batteries. The plane’s ideal flight speed is about 28 mph, which can double during the day when the sun’s rays are strongest. The carbon-fiber aircraft weighs more than 5,000 pounds, or about as much as a mid-size truck.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency aircraft account for 11 percent of all U.S. transportation Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and more than 3 percent of total U.S. GHG emissions. The European Commission has warned that by 2020, international aviation emissions could be 70 percent higher than in 2005, even if fuel efficiency improves by 2 percent a year.
Solar Impulse 2 did a record breaking solo flight for 5 days and nights without fuel when it flew from Nagoya to Hawaii. Solar Impulse 2 will make three more stops in the US before crossing the Atlantic Ocean to Europe or Northern Africa.
The pilots have kept a log of their journeys on their website (follow the Solar Impulse) that show the plane’s altitude, speed, navigation, and maps. Their most recent entry said “By attempting the first solar flight around the world, pushing back the boundaries of the possible, going into the unknown, and taking on a project deemed impossible by industry experts.”