June 14, 2012
Solar Impulse Does 180, Returns To Rabat
Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com
The Solar Impulse, piloted by project CEO and co-founder Andre Borschberg, made a safe landing at Rabat-Sale International Airport after facing unexpected headwinds and unbearable turbulence during its southern journey to the city of Ouarzazate, Morocco.
Borschberg took off from Rabat at 8:07 a.m. (local time) on June 13, and made the call to turn his solar-powered aircraft around and head back to Rabat at 3:33 p.m. on June 13. He landed the plane safely at the airport in Rabat at 12:14 a.m. on June 14.
Degrading weather conditions made it difficult to continue the flight, and with pilot and aircraft safety in mind, Borschberg felt it was best to return to the point of departure to reassess the mission.
“The situation is a perfect reminder of how challenging and difficult the Solar Impulse missions are how flexible and prepared the entire team and the host country must be,” the team said after touchdown.
“Thanks to the professionalism of both MASEN and StratEvents, the event management company, the last minute logistics and support were precious for the successful completion of the unexpected mission,” it added.
“To this day, every flight was so well prepared making everything seem so easy,” said Bertrand Piccard, Initiator and Chairman of Solar Impulse. “Maybe too easy given that we almost forgot that the Solar Impulse HB-SIA is a prototype which was initially only destined to fly over Switzerland as proof of its ability to fly day and night without fuel. What we are doing today with these intercontinental flights is at the limit of its capabilities and each mission is a technical and human feat for the entire team.”
The team knew the next phase of their mission would be the most difficult yet. The arid and hot climate of the desert region Solar Impulse was to fly over is frequently filled with thunderstorms, strong winds and thermal currents which today proved too difficult for the experimental plane.
“Given the challenging meteorological conditions over the Moroccan desert, the team had already prepared all the possible scenarios, including a possible return on Rabat,” explained Borschberg. “The decision was the best albeit not the easiest to accept. It is an experience that renders us humble when faced with nature.”
"When the headwind is faster than the speed of the aircraft“¦ we risk to quickly losing all references. That is the moment when we need to decide to stop," he said.
The Rabat to Rabat flight lasted 16 hours and 6 minutes. The aircraft flew a distance of 484 miles and reached an altitude of 16,404 feet. The team will reassess the mission and possibly find an alternative route to Ouarzazate.