Often touted as the world’s first solar-powered aircraft that has the capability to handle day-night cycle, it is high time that Solar Impulse 2 (Si2) proved its credentials in the realm of renewable energy. At least, that is what its designers have envisaged – with the plane all set to take its around-the-world trip, without the aid of any conventional fuel. This momentous feat will entail a whopping 35,000 km (22,000 mi) that will be covered in 25 days (over a time-period of five months), with 12 stops aptly positioned along various locations on our planet.
This eventful flight will commence in late-February or early March, from the city of Abu Dhabi (where the Si2 was first exhibited by renewable energy company Masdar). The navigational pit-stops will then sequentially extend to Oman, India, Myanmar and lastly to China. After this, the aircraft would attempt a trans-Pacific trip over to Hawaii, and then continue to continental United States. In the ensuing flight path, the experimental plane would take off from New York City, and then attempt a trans-Atlantic journey to Southern Europe Or North Africa, and finally make its round trip back to Abu Dhabi.
This extensive voyage of the Solar Impulse 2 will only be possible because of its advanced powertrain. To that end, the plane with its 236-ft wingspan, accounts for four electric motors that are juiced up by 17,248 solar cells embedded on to the wings. These cells are further coated by a fluorine copolymer film, which rather aids in the transference of energy to the built-in high-density lithium polymer batteries. This powertrain is bolstered by the Si2’s aerodynamic frame crafted from carbon fiber, and is designed with the help of single-ply technology. The resultant 2,300 kg (5,070 lb) structure is incredibly three-times lighter than paper, if compared in terms of unit density!
As for the cockpit in question, this pilot-oriented space has a substantial length of 3.8 m (12.5 ft), with its depressurized specifications being tailored to sustained habitation for over a week. But in spite of all these progressive features, the task at hand is obviously not an easy one, as mirrored by the remarks of Bertrand Piccard, one of the co-founders and pilots of the Solar Impulse –
Solar Impulse is not the first solar airplane, however it is the first able to cross oceans and continents – remaining in the air for several days and nights in a row without landing. But now we have to ensure the sustainability of the pilot in order to complete the route; Solar Impulse 2 must accomplish what no other plane in the history of aviation has achieved – flying without fuel for 5 consecutive days and nights with only one pilot in the unpressurized cockpit.