Solar plane (Impulse 2) arrives at Ahmedabad in India

A
solar plane designed to fly around the world without a drop of fuel has
completed the first sea crossing of its 32,000-kilometer journey. The Solar
Impulse 2 successfully crossed the Arabian Sea to reach India during the second
leg of its round-the-world odyssey. The Solar Impulse 2 arrived in Ahmedabad
after a flight of about 15 hours over the Arabian Sea from Muscat in Oman.

Solar
Impulse 2, the world’s first airplane flying on solar energy, lands in
Ahmedabad March 10, 2015. Credit
:
REUTERS/JEAN REVILLARD/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS
By
relying upon more than 17,000 solar cells covering its wings to provide energy
to its bank of batteries and four electric motors, the solar plane can stay
airborne virtually forever. (The pilot, of course, cannot.) Sunlight gives
Solar Impulse 2 the chance to collect 340 kilowatt-hours of energy per day and
recharge its lithium polymer batteries. That allows the solar plane to fly
through the night without running out of energy; it climbs to 8,500 meters
during the day and descends to just 1,500 meters at night to conserve energy.

On
average, the Solar Impulse 2 uses just as much power as a small motorbike over
a 24-hour period. It typically flies at speeds between 36 kilometers per hour
and 140 kilometers per hour. The solar plane also relies upon a lightweight
framework design to stay airborne. Its carbon fiber frame has a 72-meter
wingspan larger than that of a Boeing 747-8I jumbo jet, but with a
2,300-kilogram weight equivalent to that of a car.

The
human endurance required to fly a solar plane around the world cannot be
underestimated. Pilots Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg plan to switch off
on flying the single-seater aircraft with each leg of the journey. But their
biggest challenge will come from flying five or six days and nights in a row to
cross the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. For those “long haul” flights, the
pilots can make use of the solar plane’s reclining seat that allows for quick
naps and also conveniently converts into a toilet. Self-hypnosis and meditation
techniques will also help the pilots maintain their concentration.

“It’s
a privilege to fly in an aeroplane like that,” pilot Bertrand Piccard told
reporters after landing. Piccard and fellow pilot Andre Borschberg will take
turns at the controls of Solar Impulse 2, which began its journey in Abu Dhabi
in the United Arab Emirates on Monday, as it makes its way around the globe in
about 25 flight days at speeds of between 50 kph and 100 kph.
              

The
next stop is Varanasi, the constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who
has made boosting clean energy a priority for his government. After leaving
India, the plane will make stopovers in Myanmar and China before crossing the
Pacific Ocean and flying across the United States and southern Europe to arrive
back in Abu Dhabi by late July. The aircraft is as heavy as a family car at
2,300 kg but has a wingspan as wide as the largest airliner. The design and
construction of the Solar Impulse took 12 years. A first version of the craft
rolled out in 2009 and broke records for height and distance travelled by a
manned solar plane. (Source: Reuters)

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