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If the round-the-world balloon flight was the fulfillment of Bertrand’s dreams of adventure, Solar Impulse is his life’s project : a solar airplane capable of flying through day and night without fuel, demonstrating the efficiency of new clean technologies in conserving our planet’s natural resources. He finds in it all aspects of his family’s heritage - the pioneering spirit, curiosity, perseverance, scientific adventure, airborne exploration, high technology, teamwork, calling into question what people consider “impossible”, and of course environmental protection. The solar airplane may seem the project’s focal point, but beyond the aeronautical dimension, the overriding aim is to encourage everyone to be pioneers in their everyday lives. Whether in the way they think and act, take political decisions, or make choices about energy. To be part of the Solar Impulse adventure is to subscribe to an initiative that shows why surpassing personal limits makes sense, and encourage the replacement of old technologies by clean technologies.

The vision of a solar airplane flying day and night without using any fuel seemed an obvious next step to Bertrand after his round-the-world balloon flight. Of the 3.7 tons of liquid propane on board at take-off, only 40 kg remained on landing. Success had been entirely dependent on the consumption of the burners. That was the moment when Bertrand promised to himself to go round the world again, but this time taking no fossil fuel with him. In 2002, he asked the Geneva Utilities Department to provide a preliminary analysis, and traveled across the USA to find out how pioneers like Paul McCready and Burt Rutan could help him. Solar airplanes had flown before, but only during the day, and without any capacity for storing energy. 

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« The ultimate objective of Solar Impulse is to lend expression to a human-centered vision giving free rein to innovation and the pioneering spirit in everyday life. »

Bertrand Piccard



« Just imagine your energy reserves increasing during flight! To make this dream a reality, we had to make maximum use of every possible source of energy efficiency. By tapping into each team member’s experience and using the combined potential of them all, we managed to find the solutions. »

André Borschberg

In 2003, the Swiss FederalInstitute of Technology in Lausanne became enthusiastic about the idea and offered to conduct a feasibility study. This task was allocated to André Borschberg. A friendship was born, and a determination to work together to ensure successful execution of the project. André, an entrepreneur, engineer and professional pilot, put together the technical team and directed the building of the prototype. Bertrand, the visionary and communicator, developed the forward-looking philosophy of the project, outlining its symbolic and political significance in a way that convinced financial partners to back the challenge.

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If the round-the-world balloon flight was the final adventure of the 20th Century, Solar Impulse is without doubt the first to encapsulate the challenges of the 21st.

Albert de Monaco

After 4 years of studies and 2 years’ construction work, the revolutionary prototype – registered HB-SIA – made its maiden flight on 3 December 2009. With the wingspan of an Airbus 340 and the weight of a small car, nothing could be taken for granted. In July 2010, with André at the controls, Solar Impulse made the first solar-powered flight through a day/night cycle – a historic success. The flight lasted 26 hours and gave credibility to Bertrand’s vision. Further flights followed all over Switzerland, and then across Europe. Solar Impulse, under the patronage of the European Commission and Parliament, landed first in Brussels and then flew on to Paris, where it gave demonstrations as guest of honor at the Paris Air Show in Le Bourget.

In the spring of 2012, Bertrand and André took turns at the controls to make the first ever solar-powered intercontinental flight – 6,000 km for the return trip between Switzerland and Morocco, where King Mohamed VI had invited them to support the Moroccan solar energy program. 

During the summer of 2013, when the building of the second airplane was well under way, Solar Impulse 1 took to the air again to cross a continent, from San Francisco to New York – 5,650 km in 6 stages. Here was an opportunity to promote clean technologies to a large number of influential people in political and economic circles, and to organise public events and educational sessions under the aircraft’s wings. In New York, the pilots presented their project to the UN, at the invitation of Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, and flanked by their team rang the bell to announce the opening of the NASDAQ stock exchange.

The achievement of this historic crossing – marked by 8 world records set en route  - demonstrated the reliability of the technologies used as well as the determination of the entire team to ensure the success of the project.

Even though it has not yet circumnavigated our planet, Solar Impulse has already achieved its first aim : to promote renewable forms of energy and clean technologies capable of reducing society’s dependence on fossil fuels. The solar airplane attracts the highest political and economic authorities into debates on the technological solutions currently available to achieve internationally agreed CO2 reduction targets. Each such encounter is also an opportunity to raise the problems of resistance to change and the dangerous or costly effects of using old technologies.

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« What now remains to be done is to assemble around this project - and so give a voice - to all those who share our views that survival on this planet depends on sustainable development, that we can protect nature without being ecological fanatics, and that individual initiative cannot be dissociated from social responsibility. Also, that trade, finance and politics should be conducted ethically, that respect is not an outdated moral precept, and that you can have a spiritual life without dogmatism. »

Bertrand Piccard

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© Solar Impulse / Rezo.ch

The new airplane’s 72m wingspan was revealed at the Unveiling ceremony in April 2014. Equipped with a more spacious cockpit for flights lasting several days, and with 5,000 extra solar cells on the upper wing, it is ready to attempt the first solar-powered round-the-world flight in March 2015, starting in the Gulf region. Solar Impulse 2 will fly in succession over the Arabian Sea, India, Myanmar, China, the Pacific Ocean, the USA, the Atlantic Ocean, and Southern Europe or North Africa, to complete the circle by arriving at its departure point.

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THE STORY OF SOLAR IMPULSE

After the Solar Impulse prototype’s 8 world records, when it became the fi rst solar airplane ever to fl y through the night, between two continents, and across the United States, it is time for Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg to move on to the ultimate phase of the adventure : the 2015 round-the-world fl ight. Solar Impulse 2 was built to take up that challenge. It’s a solar airplane with a gigantic wingspan. A real airborne technology lab with virtually endless endurance, capable of crossing oceans and continents by remaining in the air for several days and nights in a row. What better way to demonstrate the importance of the pioneering, innovatory spirit than by achieving “ impossible ” things with renewable energy and highlighting new solutions for environmental problems?

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GIVING AN IMPULSE

« Dreams give birth to innovation, and innovation leads to progress. Let’s move forward by inventing a more promising future! Beyond the aeronautical dimension, Solar Impulse seeks above all to encourage people to be pioneers in their everyday lives. By stimulating change. Whether in ways of thinking or behaving, abandoning dogmatism and ingrained habits. » (Bertrand Piccard

By placing dreams and emotions at the center of scientific adventure, Bertrand and André are trying to point out the paradigm shifts that can be achieved immediately and will improve the state of the world. Not just by using technology, but equally importantly through responsible citizenship. To be part of the Solar Impulse adventure is to subscribe to an initiative that shows why surpassing personal limits makes sense, and places human-oriented values back at the center of debate.

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THE ZERO-FUEL AIRPLANE

Solar Impulse 2: the wingspan of an Airbus 340, but the weight of a car !

In order to fly by day and by night using only solar energy, Solar Impulse has to reach absolutely unprecedented levels of aerodynamic performance and energy efficiency. This requirement led the whole team, under the direction of André Borschberg, to bring off an amazing technological feat - building a carbon-fiber airplane with a span of 64 meters that weighs only 1,600 kg ! No aircraft manufacturer had thought it possible to meet such a challenge. They had to work with no benchmarks to rely on, using ultralight materials and new manufacturing processes, at the very boundary of the possible.

The lithium batteries, which weigh 400 kg, are recharged during the day by 200 m2 of photovoltaic cells, allowing flight to continue through the night before a new cycle starts the following morning. The price to be paid for this is a very low speed (on average 70 km/h) and high sensitivity to turbulence. Only one pilot can be carried. So Bertrand and André take turns in the cockpit for flights that last over 26 hours. The pilots' endurance will be all the more tested than the longest legs of the round-the-world will last up to five days and five nights.

 

A SYMBOL

« It’s easy to generate public enthusiasm for great adventures – people are keen to share the dreams of pioneers and explorers. A solar airplane that can fly day and night and even round the world without any fuel conveys a strong message. If it is possible to get by without fossil fuels in the air, nobody can ever again claim that we cannot do it in our daily lives on the ground, in our cars, houses, heating systems, air conditioners and electric lights. We need to generate positive feelings about renewable energies and clean technologies that allow energy to be saved. Let’s draw governments’ attention to the unavoidable changes that are needed to secure the planet’s future energy supplies and ecological balance. Let’s show how environmental protection can be profitable and stimulating for us. Let’s show how alternative energy sources, allied to new technologies, can help us achieve things previously considered impossible. » (Bertrand Piccard)

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Bertrand and his associate André Borschberg achieved - with the HB-SIA prototype - the first intercontinental solar flights between Europe and Africa, as well as the coast-to-coast crossing of the U.S.A. (summer 2013). Then, with Solar Impulse 2 in 2015, they stayed airborne for a record 118 hours - 5 days and 5 nights.

There was enough solar energy to drive the four electric motors, charge the batteries needed for night-flight, and continue flying the following morning. One way of getting closer to the myth of perpetual flight…

« It’s symbolic, because we will probably never be able to carry 300 passengers in a solar airliner, but the symbolism concerns us all. If you think about it, aren’t we all here on Earth in the same situation as the Solar Impulse pilot? If he did not have the right technology, or if he wasted energy, he would have to land with empty batteries before the sun rose to allow him to prolong his flight. As for us, if we don’t invest in the scientific methods that allow us to develop new sources of energy, and if our politicians and industrialists continue to lack vision, we will find ourselves in a major crisis that will prevent us from handing the planet on to the next generation. » (Bertrand Piccard).

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