When you get on an airplane to fly across the country — or even across the ocean — you probably don’t think too much about how much fuel is actually being used by that airplane you’re sitting on. You probably also don’t think about exactly what the environmental impact of that one flight might be, not to mention the collective environmental impact of all of the flights that happen around the world each and every day. The numbers add up pretty quickly!
- According to this article, one flight from New York to Phoenix consumes approximately 6,900 gallons of fuel.
- It’s estimated that there are approximately 100,000 flights around the world each day. If you do the math, that’s approximately 3.7 million flights per year throughout the world.
This data adds up to a whole lot of fuel usage and contribution to the world’s pollution problem – not to mention any other environmental issues that go with the petroleum and transportation industries.
An impulse for a solar-powered airplane
If we’re looking honestly at ways to significantly reduce our impact on this earth, reducing fuel use is certainly one area worth looking at. We can buy hybrid and electric cars now, but the options aren’t so simple for flying. We have our choice of airlines, but the planes are all pretty much the same. For now, anyways.
Swiss pioneers Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg are trying to change the conversation and prove that energy doesn’t have to be a dirty word. Piccard (a psychiatrist and explorer with an avant-gardist vision) and Borschberg (an engineer and entrepreneur with managerial experience) have set out to achieve something that sounds pretty much impossible with our knowledge of energy and technology today. Piccard and Borschberg are attempting the first around the world solar-powered airplane flight, using no fuel with absolutely no harmful emissions.
Can you imagine if every flight around the world every day could make that claim? How would that change the world?
Be the change you want to see in the world. —Mahatma Gandhi
That famous quote is most certainly appropriate in this inspiring story. Instead of huffing and puffing about the state our planet is currently in, Piccard, Borschberg and their team are doing something about it. They are pouring everything they have into demonstrating that solar technology can do far more than power a few lightbulbs in your home – it can power the world if that’s where we set our intentions.
Solar Impulse 2
Solar Impulse 2, a completely solar-powered airplane, is the result of the dreams of these two men. This airplane is powered only by the sun, with absolutely no fuel or polluting emissions. And there is no back-up to the solar-powered energy.
This solar-powered airplane has the wingspan of a Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet, the weight of a typical family car and the power of a small motorcycle. Solar Impulse 2 is the largest aircraft ever built with such a low weight. Even though the plane has a huge wingspan, the pilot is the only person that can be on the plane — so every flight is a solo flight.
A lot of work went into the design and construction of Solar Impulse 2. It took 12 years of research and development to develop this aircraft, which is powered by dozens of environmentally friendly products and processes.
Some of these features include:
- Ultralight material
- Solar cells
- Energy dense batteries
- Lightweight LEDs
- Low density thermal insulation
- Energy efficient electric motors
- Smart energy system
- Protective resins
This amazing 360 degree video below shows you what it’s like for this aircraft to take off and land — and see the inside of the cockpit.
Solar Impulse 2 sets record for solo flights
The Solar Impulse 2 took its maiden flight from Abu Dhabi to Muscat, Oman on March 9, 2015. They have since made it quite far along in their journey and will soon make it back to Abu Dhabi and complete their around the world flight goals.
Earlier this year, the Solar Impluse 2 team set a record for solo flights (so far, the Solar Impulse prototype has set 8 world records). The pilot flew non-stop for 5 days and 5 nights without fuel from Nagoya, Japan to Hawaii. After 117 hours and 52 minutes and approximately 8,900 km in the air, the pilot had to land the plane in Hawaii due to unforeseen battery damage due to overheating.
After many tests and repairs were completed, the Solar Impluse 2 was able to cross the Pacific Ocean to San Francisco, where it landed safely. The pilots (Piccard and Borschberg both pilot the aircraft) are currently continuing on their journey around the world. This is a truly historic event to watch, as every day puts them one step closer to completing the first around-the-world trip without a drop of carbon-based fuel.
While the Solar Impluse 2’s exact travel dates are undetermined, you can sign up to receive flash updates on the plane’s adventures here. It’s a lot of fun to keep up to date and watch where the Solar Impulse 2 is in its journey. I can’t wait to see it make its final landing in Abu Dhabi! What a great feeling that will be for Piccard and Borschberg, and what a great step forward in clean energy for our world.
A message to the world
This historic attempt to fly a solar-powered airplane around the world is certainly sending all of us a clear message about our energy consumption. If we can harness the plane’s clean energy technologies on the ground in our day-to-day lives, its speculated that we could cut the world’s energy consumption in half, saving precious natural resources and improving our overall quality of life.
The pilots have made it their mission to spread this message to the general public at large, students that will shape the world’s future, key decision-makers in government and business, and entrepreneurs all around the world.
Where would you like to see solar-powered airplane technology go?
Feature image credit: Solar Impulse SA