Accessibility links

Solar-Powered Plane to Fly Around the World

The makers and pilots of a solar-powered plane will try to fly it around the world beginning next month.

The plane is called “Solar Impulse 2,” or SI-2. It arrived in pieces recently in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. The plane’s material is mostly plastic strengthened with lightweight glass. It is now being assembled and prepared for its journey around the globe. The SI-2 team plans to circumnavigate the Earth in 25 flying days over a five month period.

The idea was first tested by Solar Impulse 1 in 2012. Pilots flew the plane on an intercontinental flight from Switzerland to Morocco. And in the summer of 2013, the plane was flown across the United States, from San Francisco to New York City.

The plane’s wings are 72 meters across. They are covered with more than 17,000 solar cells. These special energy storage containers provide power to the batteries that permit the plane’s four electric motors to operate at night.

Only one person can sit in the SI-2. In March, the first pilot will take off from Abu Dhabi and fly along the equator, where the sun’s rays are strongest. The plane will land every few days so that the two pilots can take turns flying it.

Bertrand Piccard is one of the pilots. He also helped create the project. He says the flight around the world will require that he and the other pilot have a lot of endurance.

“It's very exciting for everybody, and we are also in the psychological preparation of the pilot and the team, because technology is OK, but you need to cope now with very long duration flights -- single pilot on board for five days and five nights; lot of stress for everybody.”

Andre Borschberg is the other pilot. He helped Mr. Piccard create the solar planes. He says that although a computer called an autopilot can fly SI-2, he and Mr. Piccard plan to rest or sleep for only 20 minutes at a time.

He says the number of times the pilots will be able to rest or sleep every night is difficult to estimate. He says they have trained in a simulator to have six to eight breaks in a 24-hour period. That is about two hours of sleep every 24 hours. He says that is not a lot.

Bertrand Piccard says the goal of the project is to show that renewable energy and clean technologies can be used in other kinds of projects.

“If an airplane can fly with no fuel around the world, can you imagine how this technology could be used everywhere?”

SI-2 is to return to Abu Dhabi in July.

I’m Jonathan Evans.

VOA Science Correspondent George Putic reported this story from Washington. Jonathan Evans wrote it in VOA Learning English. Christopher Cruise edited the story.


Words in This Story

autopilotn. a device that steers a ship, aircraft or spacecraft in place of a person

circumnavigate v. to travel all the way around something in a ship or airplane

equator – n. an imaginary circle around the middle of the Earth that is the same distance from the North Pole and the South Pole

endurance n. the ability to do something difficult for a long time

intercontinental adj. traveling or occurring between continents

simulatorn. a machine that is used to show what something looks or feels like; a machine that is used to study something or to train people

In what other places could solar power be used? Do you use solar power? Do companies in your country use solar power? We want to hear from you. Write to us in the comments section.

Show comments