Solar Impulse 2 takes off from Abu Dhabi for first leg of its round-the-world flight

The first attempt to circumnavigate the earth in an exclusively solar powered plane has successfully taken off from Abu Dhabi Al Bateen Executive Airport this morning.

Flying Solar Impulse 2 for the first leg is chief engineer Andre Borschberg. The journey is expected to take approximately 10 hours. Christopher Pike / The National
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The first attempt to circumnavigate the Earth in an exclusively solar-powered plane successfully began at Abu Dhabi Al Bateen Executive Airport on Monday morning.

Solar Impulse 2 took off at 7.15am, headed for Muscat, its first leg of the journey.

Take-off was delayed by 45 minutes due to a last-minute electrical failure on the runway that threatened to stall the already postponed departure date, according to the co-pilot and founder of Solar Impulse, Bertrand Piccard.

“There was still a problem with the connector. We had to check if it was OK, because it could have been a smaller problem that had no significance, or it could have been an alarm that would have destroyed the flight,” he said.

The chief engineer Andre Borschberg is flying the first leg. The journey to Muscat is expected to take approximately 10 hours.

Members of the team behind the Solar Impulse 2 left Al Bateen by plane at noon to prepare for the solar plane’s 5pm arrival in the Omani capital.

The team will stay for less than a day before carrying on, with Mr Piccard taking the controls for the second leg of the flight, to Ahmedabad, India.

“Andre is on his way to Oman,” Mr Piccard said. “If everything is well I will take the plane to India tomorrow and the adventure goes on.”

The 18-hour flight across the Arabian Sea will be the farthest distance attempted by the plane and is seen as a crucial indicator of its performance on longer legs of the trip.

The two-man team will alternate piloting duties throughout the 12 legs.

“Once you know who starts and who finishes, you know roughly who does which leg,” Mr Piccard said. “It’s a logic of repetition afterwards.

“At the end, its the team and the story of friendship. When I fly I know Andre enjoys it and when I fly I know he enjoys it. The journey begins when we land back in Abu Dhabi, to continue this story, to spread our message of clean technology,” he added.

Mr Borschberg said that upon the plane’s successful return, it will be retrofitted to function as a solar-powered drone to help develop the energy sector.

“The next step will be to build a unmanned version of the airplane that will fly higher than this one and to replace satellites,” Mr Borschberg said. “This will be an easy and sustainable way to solve part of the challenges we have.”

“We want to show that climate change is a chance to develop new technologies, fantastic opportunities to change and create jobs,” Mr Piccard said.

The team will continue its five month journey around the world, spending days in the cockpit crossing oceans and continents.

“You have to make the cockpit like your own house, for a week in the air,” Mr Piccard said.

“It’s not easy to be pioneers, its not easy to be explorers because every single hour of your life you meet people who doubt you,” he said. “But we used all those doubts, all the questions for motivation.”,

The progress of the plane can be followed life via the official website and its YouTube channel.

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About this package:

The solar-powered Solar Impulse 2 plane took off at 7.15am on Monday morning for Muscat, in its first leg of the journey before continuing on to India and subsequently around the world. The two-man team, comprised of pilots Andre Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard, will alternate duties throughout the 12 legs. There is only room for one pilot in the cockpit, so the sole pilot must be self-reliant throughout their journeys. The Swiss pilots will have to alternate 20-minute windows of sleep adding up to just three hours of sleep a day, or 15 hours for the entire trip. Specific food has also been developed to provide the men with necessary nutrients while withstanding the significant changes in temperature. Travelling alongside the Solar Impulse team is Mubadala employee Hasan Al Redaini, 25, who will also assist in the coordination of lectures and demonstrations intended to educate communities from each of the 12 countries about solar energy.

More on the Solar Impulse flight:

Solar Impulse pilots will sleep in 20-minute installments

Emirati to travel the world with Solar Impulse team

nalwasmi@thenational.ae