Swiss pilots aim to circle world in a solar-powered plane

A A A

Bertrand Piccard is no conventional environmental activist -- he hopes to raise awareness about the potential of renewable energy by flying a solar-powered aircraft around the world.

(AFP) -

Bertrand Piccard is no conventional environmental activist - he hopes to raise awareness about the potential of renewable energy by flying a solar-powered aircraft around the world.

"What we want to do is to fly day and night to show that, with renewable energies, you can have unlimited duration of flight, no restriction," Piccard told AFP at the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi, where he had a booth to promote his venture.

The 51-year-old Swiss psychiatrist plans to fly his one-of-kind "Solar Impulse" around the world over 20 to 25 days, traveling at an average of 70 kilometres (43 miles) an hour.

He will split the flying time with Andre Borschberg, a former Swiss fighter pilot.

"We believe that if an airplane can fly around the world with no fuel, nobody can say after that it's impossible to do it for cars, for heating systems, for air-conditioning, for computers and so on," he said.

The prototype of Solar Impulse made its first test flight near Zurich in December. The plane is made of carbon fibre, with solar panels along the top of its roughly 64-metre (209-foot) wingspan.

The aim is for the solar panels to absorb energy to power the aircraft during the day, and at the same time store energy in lithium polymer batteries to run the engines at night.

After aircraft manufacturers said Piccard's specifications would be impossible to meet, he turned to a racing yacht manufacturer to build the airframe.

"They did not know it's impossible, so they did it," he said.

The plane is powered by four electric engines, each making a maximum of 10 horsepower. Piccard said that, despite having a wingspan close to that of an Airbus A340, Solar Impulse weighs only 1,600 kilogrammes (3,500 pounds).

Asked what led him to try this unorthodox method of promoting renewable energy, Piccard pointed to his family history.

"I come from a family of explorers, who always had a lot of concern for the environment and for natural resources," he said.

"My grandfather was the first man to explore the stratosphere, to climb above the atmosphere (in a balloon) ... and my father made in 1960 the deepest dive ever in a submarine," he said.

- Lindbergh's flight with no fuel -

-------------------

Piccard has already demonstrated a penchant for adventure. In 1999, he and Briton Brian Jones became the first men to complete a non-stop flight around the globe in a hot-air balloon.

That flight "gave me the fame to ... do useful things," Piccard said, including finding sponsors, money and support for his current project.

The project, which will cost a total of 70 million euros (100 million dollars), has been underway for around seven years and still has a way to go. The attempted flight around the world won't take place until 2012 or 2013.

This year, the aircraft will undergo high-altitude testing, and will also be tested in daytime and nighttime flight. If that goes well, the prototype will either be modified or a new one built for a trans-Atlantic flight.

"We have to reproduce Lindbergh's flight with no fuel," Piccard said, referring to Charles Lindbergh, the first man to fly solo non-stop across the Atlantic Ocean.

The one-man aircraft will land at different points during the flight around the world so the pilots can switch off, Piccard said.

In addition to the switch, the landings will be an opportunity "to present the technology of this airplane, to encourage people to use (the technology) also, for their daily life," he said.

For Piccard, the Solar Impulse project is a new, positive tack in promoting renewable energy and conservation.

"I was in Copenhagen (for the recent climate change conference), and I see people are fed up with the alarmists, the catastrophists," he said.

"People need solutions, not problems. So we have to demonstrate the solutions. We have to show that it's possible to do great things."

And aviation, Piccard said, is "a good vector to push messages."

Sport
sportSo, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Arts and Entertainment
Dennis speaks to his French teacher
tvThe Boy in the Dress, TV review
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia was one of the 300 US cinemas screening
filmTim Walker settles down to watch the controversial gross-out satire
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Life and Style
Mark's crab tarts are just the right size
food + drinkMark Hix cooks up some snacks that pack a punch
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all