Solar Impulse Team Test Pilot Takes Newest Aircraft Out For A Spin
June 2, 2014

Solar Impulse Team Test Pilot Takes Newest Aircraft Out For A Spin

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

Solar Impulse 2, the latest zero-fuel aircraft of Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg, made its maiden voyage June 2, 2014 with test pilot Markus Scherdel. The plane, officially unveiled just two months ago, will be used by Piccard and Borschberg on their 2015 World Tour, as they attempt to circumnavigate the world in a plane powered only by the sun.

During an official presentation on May 14, 2014, Piccard explained how looking at the new HB-SIB2 aircraft invoked memories of his childhood and to the Walt Disney classic Dumbo.

“This baby elephant was born with ears that were so enormous, that everybody was making fun of him… until he could deploy his ears and fly,” Piccard said during the official presentation.

[ Watch the Video: Official Presentation of the Solar Impulse 2 aircraft ]

Comparing the new plane to Dumbo, the Solar Impulse team proved their newest plane is nothing to be making fun of, as it successfully carried out its first test flight, taking off from Payerne, Switzerland and flying for two hours and 17 minutes before returning to the ground in Payerne.

The revolutionary single-seat aircraft, which will be flown around the world in 2015 by Piccard and Borschberg, is a work of art. Weighing in at about 2.4 tons (4,800 pounds), the plane measures 236 feet wide from wing tip to wing tip. More than 17,000 solar cells will help the plane both day and night solely on solar energy. It is a larger version of the aircraft the duo used for their past flights: last year’s Across America Tour and the 2012’s International mission from Switzerland to Morocco and back again.

During Monday’s test flight, Scherdel trialed the aircraft’s performance in the sky overhead. The initial results of the flight are in line with calculations and simulations and the team will conduct several more test flights in the coming months to certify the plane for their upcoming ambitious World Tour in 2015.

“This inaugural flight is an important stage - a step closer towards the round-the-world flight. It is also a huge emotional step for the entire team and all our partners who have worked on the aircraft. Si2 incorporates a vast amount of new technology to render it more efficient, reliable and in particular better adapted to long haul flights. It is the first aircraft which will have almost unlimited endurance,” André Borschberg, Solar Impulse Co-founder, CEO and pilot, said in an emailed statement.

“Throughout such an innovative project, each stage is a leap into the unknown. Today suspense was at a high! The results show that our team of engineers can be very proud of the work it has accomplished during the last 10 years,” added Bertrand Piccard, Solar Impulse Founder, President and pilot.

During Scherdel’s test flight, the plane reached speeds of about 55 mph at an altitude of close to 6,000 feet. During next year’s world flights, the plane is expected to handle speeds in excess of 140 mph at much higher altitudes and with absolutely no fuel.

"An aeroplane like this is absolutely unique. And for the first time in history, we have an aeroplane that is flying with no fuel day and night, showing the incredible potential of the clean technologies - all these technologies that the world can also use in order to reduce the dependency to fossil fuel and to be cleaner and solve a lot of problems of pollution," Piccard said in an interview with BBC’s Jonathan Amos.

During the day, the plane’s solar cells will charge lithium batteries, which will keep the craft powered through the night.

The team are hoping to both set and break all kinds of records when they take to the skies in 2015. They have already set a number of records with the predecessor, including the longest manned solar flight of 26 hours in June 2010, and the longest distance flown in a single flight – 832 nautical miles from Phoenix, Arizona to Dallas, Texas during the 2013 Across America tour.

As challenging as the previous two records were, they will pale in comparison to challenges the team will face in 2015, including crossing two oceans, being aloft for as long as five days when the team crosses the Pacific.

During these several-day flights, the single-seat cockpit also doubles as an exercise station and allows for comfort for short catnaps during long missions. A recent simulation flight was carried out by Piccard to prepare for such a mission, sitting in the single-seater for 72 hours, about the time it will take to cross the Atlantic Ocean. He passed with flying colors.

More simulations and test flights are to take place before Solar Impulse 2 takes to the skies for the 2015 World Tour.


Image 2 (below): Bertrand Piccard (left) and Andre Borschberg (right) congratulate Solar Impulse 2 test pilot Markus Sherdel after a successful test flight on June 2, 2014. Credit: Solar Impulse | Revillard |