June 6, 2012
Solar Impulse Lands In Rabat
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com
Green technology and aviation both took a step forward this week with the successful voyage of the Solar Impulse aircraft from Madrid to Rabat, Morocco.
The plane, which took 19 hours to complete the trip on June 6, is the size of a jumbo jet, weighs as much as the average car, and was powered by 12,000 solar cells turning four electrical motors.
Shortly before the plane´s landing in Morocco, project co-founder Andre Borschberg told reporters that the airplane had proved its worth over the course of the journey.
"The aircraft can now fly day and night. It's quite a show ... It's a technology we can trust," he said.
Two men, Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard are the driving force behind the Solar Impulse project, which was started in 2003. Piccard, who made the first non-stop round-the-world balloon flight, is the founder and chairman. Borschberg is an engineer, fighter pilot and the project´s CEO.
As of 2012, the Solar Impulse team includes about 90 people, including 30 engineers, 25 technicians and 22 mission controllers. The project is also supported financially and technologically by over a hundred companies, partners, and advisers.
According to the project´s website, Piccard and Borschberg are not interested in revolutionizing the airline industry. A plane that flies at an average speed of 44 mph could hardly do that. Instead they hope to use the Solar Impulse as a symbol to “help change people´s minds about renewable energies.”
During the flight, people were able to monitor the plane´s battery power, altitude, and speed on the Solar Impulse website. Piccard, the Solar Impulse´s pilot for the flight, was also live-tweeting from the cockpit.
“More than half way to Gibraltar. Solar energy running engines and loading batteries, great feeling #solarimpulse,” he blogged midflight.
The interactive nature of the latest Solar Impulse flight served as a reminder of just how far the aviation industry has come in just under 110 years. The only tweets to cross the Wright brothers´ minds during their initial flights were likely coming from any birds in the fields of Kitty Hawk that December day.
Upon landing, Piccard descended from the plane and was greeted by Borshberg and Mustafa Bakkoury, the head of Morocco's solar energy agency.
“It was absolutely gorgeous going from one continent to another,” Piccard told interviewers at the landing site. “Beautiful moon when I took off, beautiful moon when I landed.”
“I think it could not have been better. I think it was a really“¦ a big dream. But as I said before, I can really enjoy it now that I am on the ground; now that the plane is here. I thought that the Americans would be more disappointed than me if the plane wasn´t coming on time.”
A statement on the project website added that “the good-citizenship role” for which the Solar Impulse project was designed is starting to take hold. The ground breaking team said it hopes the project “provokes discussions amongst the highest political and economic authorities about technological solutions currently available to help them achieve the world´s agreed CO2 reduction targets. “