Abu Dhabi, London-Solar Impulse 2 started a first-of-its-kind 16-month flight without using a drop of fossil fuel and concluded its epic journey in the early hours of Tuesday morning, returning to Abu Dhabi.
The aircraft arrived at Al Bateen Executive Airport in Abu Dhabi, where its adventure began in March last year, to finish a 42,000 kilometers flight divided into 17 phases.
The plane was piloted by Swiss adventurer Bertrand Piccard, who steered it safely from the Egyptian capital of Cairo to the UAE. Piccard was taking turns at the controls with fellow countryman Andre Borschberg.
The plane weighs 1.5 tons with wingspan of a Boeing 747. It is powered by 17,000 solar cells and four engines supplied by batteries that store solar power, aiming at encouraging renewable energy and proving the capacity of using it in the aviation domain.
Solar Impulse 2 has made new unprecedented achievements including André Borschberg’s longest flight duration (118 hours) over the Pacific Ocean from Japan to Hawaii, and Betrand Piccard’s historic crossing of the Atlantic Ocean, between New York and Seville in a solar-powered airplane.
Piccard previously stated that they launched the Solar Impulse project in 2003 to send a worldwide message that clean technologies can achieve the impossible.
This flight was not clear of obstacles. Since its launch in 2015, it was expected to last for five months, yet it took 16 months. The plane was grounded for around 10 months during the summer for maintenance and repairing following its longer flight (between Japan and Hawaii). Climate conditions also caused delay of some flights.
Since its departure from Abu Dhabi in 2015, Solar Impulse 2’s flight has covered four continents, two oceans (the Pacific and the Atlantic). During the different phases, the pilot communicated with a control team located in Monaco, which had many engineers, observers, and experts in weather conditions.
During a press conference in Cairo prior to his last flight, Piccard told journalists that this project is for the benefit of energy for a better world. He also expected his last flight to be hard and exhausting due the region’s high temperature.
Climate, particularly in the Gulf desert, is considered among the main challenges that faced Solar Impulse 2, as high temperature forces the plane to fly on a higher altitude, which requires more energy and compels the pilot to wear an oxygen mask.
According to Solar Impulse 2 website, the plane flew over Saudi Arabia and reached an altitude that surpassed 30,000 feet.
The plane landed in Cairo on June 13 arriving from Ishbilia, and was supposed to resume its flight to Abu Dhabi on June 16. However, the departure was delayed over climate conditions after Piccard got sick.
Before his colleague’s departure, Andre Borschberg said on Saturday that they felt concern about the climate in the region.
During an interview with the BBC from the cockpit and while crossing the Red Sea, Piccard said that it is a great moment because it is the last phase of his trip around the world and described Solar Impulse 2 as a flying lab. Piccard, who considered the project as a revolution in the environment protection field, noted that the new clean techniques are being tested to start using them on earth, which will reduce energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions to the half.
In spite of their deep belief in Solar Impulse’s achievement, Piccard and Borschberg see that the development of commercial planes working with solar power is an ambition that requires a long time to be fulfilled.