Solar Impulse 2 sets off for penultimate flight to end round-the-world trip

Solar-powered plane leaves Spain for Egypt on what should be the penultimate leg of round-the-world flight that will end in Abu Dhabi.
Swiss pilot Andre Borschberg was at the joystick of Solar Impulse 2 as it passed over the Gemasolar thermosolar plant in Seville, Spain, on its way to Cairo. Jean Revillard / Solar Impulse 2
Swiss pilot Andre Borschberg was at the joystick of Solar Impulse 2 as it passed over the Gemasolar thermosolar plant in Seville, Spain, on its way to Cairo. Jean Revillard / Solar Impulse 2

Solar Impulse 2 took off from Seville, Spain, on Monday en route to Cairo for what is expected to be pilot Andre Borschberg’s final flight as part of the first solar-powered circumnavigation of the Earth.

After departing at 8am, the flight path will take the Swiss adventurer across the Mediterranean, crossing more national airspaces than on any other leg of the trip – including those of Tunisia, Algeria, Malta, Italy, Greece and Egypt.

During the flight, the plane was photographed flying over the Masdar-owned Gemasolar thermosolar plant in Seville.

Bertrand Piccard, Solar Impulse’s second pilot and co-founder, said the UAE’s creation of Masdar, one of the mission sponsors, was one of the reasons why they chose it as their host country.

“An oil-producing country and they created Masdar to diversify their economy and discover renewable energy,” he said. “That is amazing.”

Masdar chief executive Mohammed Al Ramahi said: “We have just witnessed a solar-powered aircraft capable of flying day and night soar directly over the first plant of its kind to produce reliable electricity day and night.

“This is a powerful symbol of the potential of solar energy and clean technologies to power a sustainable future, whether or not the Sun is shining.”

This leg of the flight covers 4,000 kilometres. It is expected to take 50 hours, depending on the weather, before landing in Cairo where Mr Piccard said he came up with the idea for Solar Impulse 17 years ago.

“Touch wood, don’t tempt fate. I hate to say too early that things go too well, because when Andre took off from Nagoya we drank the champagne too early,” he said. “It’s emotional because it is his last flight and I hope it will go well.”

The Cairo flight should be the penultimate leg before the pioneering aircraft returns to Abu Dhabi, where it began its round-the-world journey early last year.

Mr Borschberg’s daughter, Ella, was the one who gave him the go-ahead to take off from Seville’s San Pablo airport on what is expected to be his last time piloting the solar-powered plane.

“This is something we started 13 years ago – long journey. When you are close to the end you have a lot of flashbacks, but try to stay focused, try to see if anything happens,” he said.

Last July, the mission stalled when Solar Impulse suffered a battery malfunction on its longest leg, across the Pacific from Japan to Hawaii.

However, after improvements the team has flown from Hawaii to the US mainland and Spain. The next leg, although considered short, could take longer than the expected 50 hours.

“The strange thing is to feel that you have no limits. If you want to fly two or three days with just the Sun I am getting now, [it] is enough to propel the aircraft and charge it for overnight,” Mr Borschberg said.

If the mission succeeds, it will be the first circumnavigation flight made without fossil fuels and a big boost to raising awareness of renewable energy.

“The encounters we had around the world, for each of them it was extremely important and successful. So I am happy to fly back to Abu Dhabi. It is a little bit like flying back home.”

The flight will land in Cairo later this week, where the team will look for an appropriate weather window to fly back to Abu Dhabi.

Published: July 11, 2016 04:00 AM


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