Today, a small piece of history had an attempt of becoming reality, with André Borschberg taking off in his Solar Impulse plane to try to make it around the world entirely with solar energy.
It’s been six years since the first manned solar plane’s unveiling, with the first flight taking place five years ago, but the Solar Impulse’s journey has been fraught with delays — in 2010, the round-the-world attempt was originally scheduled to take place by 2012. The plane has managed to complete smaller-scale sprints, however, including a San Francisco-to-New York trip in 2013 that took two months and several stopovers to complete.
Monday’s flight took off from Abu Dhabi a little after 7AM local time (7PM PT, 10PM ET), and will head eastwards through India, China, the U.S., Europe and Africa before landing back in the UAE in August. The single-seater plane will take around five months to circumnavigate the globe, with a multitude of stopovers for rest and maintenance planned. This time will also be used to campaign for clean technologies.
Borschberg won’t undertake the complete journey, as hot air ballooner Bertrand Piccard will pilot some stages.
The Solar Impulse team had to build a bigger version of the original Solar Impulse prototype, given that it needs to be airborne for longer periods of time and thus need to store more energy from the sun. The plane sports a 72 meter wingspan, which is wider than a Boeing 747 jumbo jet, according to the BBC, that house the 17,000 solar cells that will power the lithium-ion batteries for night-time flying.