On June 11, Solar Impulse 2 completed its journey across America. The last leg of the journey from Allentown, Pennsylvania to JFK took 4 hours and 41 minutes and covered 160 miles. Before touchdown, pilot André Borschberg took Solar Impulse 2 for an aerial tour of the city, including a fly-over above the Statue Of Liberty. Here’s what the official Solar Impulse 2 blog had to say about the historic trip.
“By flapping the solar airplane’s giant wings over the Statue of Liberty, André Borschberg did more than make the whole team’s dream come true. This iconic flight added another building block to the symbol of freedom this monument has been embodying for 130 years.
“It echoes the risk-taking, the pioneering spirit, the adventure and the craving for progress of all those brought to her feet who dared to embrace the unknown in search of a brighter future. This silent albatross flying over New York, 100 years after the Wright Brothers and free of fuel, offers new perspectives and inspires new ways of thinking about the world.
The Si2 is powered 100% by solar energy. It is on a mission to circumnavigate the globe — a 22,000 mile journey. The journey began in Abu Dhabi on March 9, 2015. The airplane will now cross the Atlantic and then fly back to Abu Dhabi to complete its world tour. Previously, it set a record for the longest solar powered flight in history when it flew from Japan to Hawaii across the Pacific. That epic feat took nearly 5 days.
Being in the air for that long damaged the plane’s batteries. Because North America was heading into winter when less sunlight is available every day, the decision was made to remain in Hawaii and make repairs until more favorable flight conditions returned in the spring. It resumed its eastward progress in April with a flight to San Francisco. Borschberg is sharing piloting duties with Bertrand Piccard, who will be in charge of the upcoming flight from New York to Europe
Both pilots and the Solar Impulse 2 team want to raise awareness about climate change, showcasing what can be done using nothing but renewable energy. “The most important thing isn’t to make world records,” Piccard said last year. “It’s to show what we can do with clean technologies,” he said, ones that could simultaneously reduce carbon dioxide emissions and stimulate economic growth.
Someday, the world will stop burning fossil fuels. As Mercedes executive Jurgen Schnek told the press this week, “The planet will turn into an electric planet. We don’t know how fast the transformation is coming.” Will we be flying around in solar powered airplanes any time soon? No. It was many years after the Wright Brothers made their first flight before air travel became widely available. Solar Impulse 2 is a way point on the journey to airplanes that do not spew carbon emissions into the atmosphere.
Electric airplanes are starting to appear in the skies. Someday, our grandchildren won’t marvel at electric flight. They will wonder why it took us so long to make it a reality. Borschberg and Piccard are the Lewis and Clark of today — pioneers who chart the path that others will follow.
Thanks to my friend Ken Anderson. His passion for the Solar Impulse 2 mission is what led to this story.