In a possible breakthrough in aviation history, two Swiss men plan to fly across the United States next spring, and around the world in 2015, without using a drop of fossil fuel.
André Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard—the same man that circumnavigated the globe in a balloon—have plans to make the trip aboard Solar Impulse, an aircraft powered only by solar energy. The plane weighs as much as a midsize car with a wingspan that matches that of a jumbo jet, and is powered by 12,000 solar panels.
The Solar Impulse HB-SIA plane. Credit: Gizmodo
After the completion of his non-stop balloon flight around the globe, Piccard spent 10 years raising funds to reach the $120 million needed to build the aircraft and accomplish another world record.
Solar Impulse is not the first solar powered aircraft ever built, but it is the first that can fly at night without using fuel, thanks to battery storage that can keep it flying from dusk until dawn. It has already successfully broken the record for the longest fully solar-powered flight by flying 2,500 miles from Switzerland to North Africa and back. The ultimate objective of the Solar Impulse is to fly around the world in 20 days and 20 nights.
The idea for the project came as an epiphany to Piccard on his most recent a balloon flight around the world. It was after nearly running out of fuel and crash landing in the desert sands of Egypt that he came up with the idea of circling the globe in an aircraft that didn’t need fuel.
‘It was almost a failure due to the dependency on fuel and on that day I made a promise,’ he told CBS news in an interview.
‘I made a promise that the next time I would fly around the world it would be with no fuel at all,’ he added.
Although the goal of this project is to prove that air travel free of fossil fuel emissions is possible, the team recognizes that solar technology won’t be replacing conventional jet-powered aircrafts anytime soon. Nevertheless, the project is meant to test and promote the use of new renewable energy-efficient technologies.