Solar Impulse Goes Virtual: Piccard Attempts 72-Hour Simulated Flight
December 17, 2013

Solar Impulse Goes Virtual: Piccard Attempts 72-Hour Simulated Flight

[ Watch the video: Will He Make It? ]

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

The Solar Impulse team of Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg are busy planning for their upcoming 2015 World Tour, and to better prepare for the mission, simulation testing is an important step in the overall process.

Piccard, who hails from a long family line of explorers and adventurers, plans to step into the HB-SIB simulation cockpit, a near-exact replica of the HB-SIA aircraft that he and Borschberg piloted in their 2013 Across America flight campaign, for a 72-hour non-stop simulated flight to prepare for the rigorous demands that they will be met when the team takes flight in 2015.

The simulation began today at 8:00am CET (1:00am EST) and will last through December 20. Piccard will be at the controls for the entire 72-hour flight, a feat that Borschberg already attempted in 2012 and passed with flying colors. Piccard holds the record for the longest-duration actual flight in the Solar Impulse cockpit, spending 21 hours in the zero-fuel airplane during the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas to St. Louis, Missouri flea hop, as part of the Across America challenge.

The 72-hour simulation is meant to both mentally and physically prepare the team for the 2015 World Tour. The testing will better train them to endure three days and nights alone in a cockpit that measures less than 9ft x 5ft x 3ft and at an altitude between 3,000 and 27,000 feet. The three-day virtual transatlantic flight will see Piccard attempt to fly from Norfolk International Airport in Virginia to Seville in Spain.

"For the attempt of the round-the-world flight on solar power, we will need to cross oceans and the flight might last several days and several nights. This is why I will have to make this 72 hour transatlantic flight simulation training in the flight simulator," said Piccard in a statement on the Solar Impulse website.

This is an extreme human challenge, as it will be difficult to live in such a small area for three days without the ability to move around, sit or lie down. Additionally, the cramped quarters will put an immense strain on overall mobility and require the pilot to be able to focus well enough to manage the entire flight and land safely after several days.

To best handle these problems, Piccard has adopted self-hypnosis, which will help him stay alert and control his fatigue.

During the virtual flight, people will be able to ask him questions about his hypnosis techniques through social networking – Google+, Facebook, Twitter (Hashtag #72Hsim) – and he will answer any questions live on Dec 18 at 6:30pm CET (11:30am EST) at


There is not a lot of scientific or medical research in the field of long duration flights, especially those in a single-seat cockpit that requires near-constant control. The simulation will give specialists important data to help them design the best strategies for a round-the-world flight.

A 72-hour simulation is key to prepare for the transatlantic and transpacific flights that will take place during the 2015 World Tour. While the HB-SIB prototype, due to emerge next spring, will meet the challenges of long-duration flights, the pilots also need to prepare, showing they are capable of flying solo, day and night, for several days in succession, keeping alert and staying energized.

"What is really special, is that it is the first and only airplane in the world which has unlimited endurance. We have an airplane which is fully sustainable in terms of energy, and our challenge now is to make the pilot sustainable as well," said Borschberg in a statement.

If Piccard manages to complete his three-day mission, it will leave the door open for more testing to prepare for the 2015 challenge, perhaps a non-stop virtual flight to prepare for the grueling pass over the Pacific Ocean, which would take nearly 120 hours to cross in the HB-SIB.