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Solar Powered Flight From China To Hawaii

by John White |

Solar Impulse 2 RouteThe distance from Nanjing, China to the Hawaiian Islands is 5,070 miles and takes a Boeing 747 approximately 10 hours and 36,000 gallons of fuel to make the trip. On May 5th, 2015 Swiss pilot Andre Borschberg will make a solar powered flight from Nanjing to Hawaii in the Solar Impulse 2, a dangerous trip over water that will take roughly five days.

The Danger

Should Borschberg encounter bad weather or mechanical problems and be foreced to ditch the aircraft he will have only a life raft and his common sense to save him. In an article in The News Observer published May 1st, 2015 the pilot made this statement:
“Yes, we are nervous. I am nervous also,” Piccard said in an interview in Nanjing. “But more than anything, we are impressed. We’re in awe of the enormous distance over water that we have to do: André for the first part, and me for the second part.”

Solar Powered Flight

Flying this solar powered behemoth with wings wider that those of a Boeing 747 at 236 feet and a gross takeoff weight of just 5,071 pounds is a complex piloting challenge. The airplane has 17,248 feather-light solar cells on the top of the wings and four batteries that sit just behind the four propellors. While in flight during daylight those solar cells charge the batteries which then help power the aircraft during the night. On takeoff the pilot will climb as high as possible during the daylight hours and then when darkness falls the engines are turned off and the airplane becomes a glider losing altitude slowly for approximately three hours. The engines are then turned back on using the battery power until daylight.
“It is difficult to fly, especially at the beginning,” said Borschberg, a 62-year-old former fighter pilot with the Swiss air reserve. With its lightness and wide wingspan, the plane reacts slowly to a change in controls, making it easy for a pilot to overcompensate, he said.

Modern Day Wright Brothers?

Just like the Wright Brothers in 1903 Borschberg and his fellow pilot Bertrand Piccard are aviation pioneers who are being mocked by some aviation experts for it's slow top cruising speed of 80 mph, but the adventurers note that the goal is to demonstrate that an aircraft can fly around the world without a gas tank and theoretically keep flying forever. Despite the mocking of this flight by some aviation experts there are businesses who are moving forward with an electric aircraft motor powerful enough to power a four place aircraft and a manufacturer who is building an electric aircraft for flight training! As an early skeptic who now sees rapid advances in electric powered flight I applaud these brave adventurers and wish them well on this historic flight! Until next time keep your wings straight and level Hersch!

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