ABU DHABI // The solar-powered aircraft Solar Impulse 2 took to the skies on Thursday for a test flight, days before its departure for its round-the-world voyage.
Si2, the first aircraft able to fly day and night without a drop of fuel, successfully completed its maiden flight in the capital.
For four hours early in the morning, professional test pilot Markus Scherdel tested the aircraft’s performance, taking off from Al Bateen Executive Airport.
Following the initial test flight, Andre Borschberg, Solar Impulse co-founder, chief executive and pilot, conducted a full-day test flight.
They soared above Abu Dhabi landmarks including the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Corniche and Eastern Mangroves. The initial results are in line with calculations and simulations.
They were Si2’s first flights following the plane’s disassembly in Switzerland and reassembly in the emirate.
More stunning photos: Solar Impulse 2 test flight over Abu Dhabi
Bertrand Piccard, Solar Impulse co-founder, chairman and pilot, said: “Today, suspense filled the air.
“The results indicate that our team of engineers can be very proud of their successful reassembly of the aircraft and their efforts since the vision’s inception 12 years ago.”
For the pilots, Messrs Piccard and Borschberg, and their team of engineers, the purpose of these flights in Abu Dhabi were to test the aircraft’s performance and viability in a new environment with varied weather conditions.
“I’m happy that everything went perfectly today,” Mr Borschberg said. “Today’s test flight is very symbolic since I’ve been waiting for this to happen for 10 years.”
With Mr Piccard and Mr Borschberg taking turns in the cockpit, the revolutionary single-seater sustainable aircraft will attempt the solar-powered flight around the world starting in Abu Dhabi next month.
“These first test flights in Abu Dhabi are an important stage – a step closer to the impending round-the-world solar flight attempt,” Mr Borschberg said.
“Moreover, these flights are an emotional step for the entire team that has worked diligently over the past three weeks to reassemble the aircraft.
“I am elated to report that the plane’s performance is on par with our initial simulations.
“Si2 incorporates innovative technology to render the aircraft more efficient, reliable, sustainable and in particular, better adapted to long-haul flights.
“It is the first of its kind, an aircraft with perpetual endurance, and now we must ensure the sustainability of the pilot in-flight.”
“We’re a step closer to inspiring people across the world to be pioneers in their own lives.”
There are several additional test flights scheduled for the coming week for the team and the aircraft to prepare the attempt to circumnavigate the world, and then return to Abu Dhabi in late July or early August.
“I might fly on Sunday, which is my birthday, and on Monday,” said Mr Borschberg.
“We do not yet know when we’re expected to take off from Abu Dhabi, because it will all depend on the weather next week.”
Si2 is scheduled to stop in 12 locations, including layovers in India, China, Hawaii, New York and southern Europe or North Africa, before returning to Abu Dhabi.
Travelling at speeds between 50 kilometres per hour and 100kph, the journey will take about 25 days of flight spread over five months.
Using only solar energy, sunlight will determine its flight path, which will be continuously adjusted, according to the weather, by Mr Piccard and Mr Borschberg.
They will also be receiving assistance from 80 technicians on the ground.
“Today, Solar Impulse 2’s first test flights in Abu Dhabi mark a major milestone in the plane’s preparation for its historic attempt to fly around the world,” said Dr Nawal Al Hosany, director of sustainability for Masdar.
“Masdar and the emirate share Solar Impulse’s commitment to reinforcing the importance of innovation in achieving sustainable development.”