Bertrand Piccard this week completed the first round-the-world flight powered solely by sunlight.
Piccard (pictured), co-creator of Swiss aircraft project Solar Impulse, last month became the first person to cross the Atlantic Ocean without a drop of fuel. Now he’s the first to circle the globe in a solar-powered airplane—”proving that clean technologies can really achieve the impossible,” Solar Impulse said in a blog post.
His single-seat monoplane—the company’s second, named Solar Impulse 2 (Si2)—sports a massive panel of solar cells, reaching 79 yards (the wingspan of a Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet). It also features a smart energy system, electric motors, thermal insulation, and batteries.
“We have now just watched our shared dream [become] a reality,” Solar Impulse wrote. “Emotions, tears, relief, exhilaration is what we are all feeling right now after completing the first round-the-world solar flight in history.”
Piccard and fellow pilot André Borschberg began their project to circumnavigate the globe last year. The multi-stage journey started in the United Arab Emirates in March, and continued through the summer, when the Si2 flew to Seville, Spain.
“The propellers will come to a stop for the last time on the runway,” Piccard wrote in a LinkedIn entry just before his final Cairo-to-Abu Dhabi flight. “At this moment, we must remember that, more than anything else, it is the start of what will come next, beyond Solar Impulse.”
Solar aviation began in the 1970s, when affordable solar cells became available; it wasn’t until the next decade, however, that human flights took off. And while we still cruise through the skies in gas-guzzling airbuses, Solar Impulse aims to highlight the potential of clean technologies.
Piccard and Borschberg recently established the International Committee of Clean Technology (ICCT), which will research and develop concrete solutions for a clean future. “The creation of the [ICCT] and the experience of the engineering team in developing electric aircrafts, manned or unmanned, will allow us to go far ‘beyond Solar Impulse,'” Piccard said.