Solar flight completes first round-the-world journey


The world's first round-the-world flight to be powered solely by the sun's energy has made history, landing in Abu Dhabi, where it first took off on an epic 25,000-mile journey that began more than a year ago.

Since its March 2015 take-off, the Swiss-engineered Solar Impulse 2 has made 16 stops across the world without using a drop of fuel to demonstrate that using the plane's clean technologies on the ground can halve the world's energy consumption, save natural resources and improve quality of life.

The Solar Impulse 2 plane lands in an airport in Abu Dhabi
(Aya Batrawy/AP)

"Our mission now is to continue to motivate people, corporations and governments to use these same solutions on the ground wherever they make sense," Solar Impulse chairman and pilot Bertrand Piccard said in a statement before landing the plane in the United Arab Emirates.

The aircraft is uniquely powered by 17,248 solar cells that transfer energy to four electrical motors that power the plane's propellers. It runs on four lithium polymer batteries at night. The plane's wingspan stretches 236 feet to catch the sun's energy.

At around 5,070lbs, the plane weighs about as much as a mini-van or mid-sized lorry. An empty Boeing 747, in comparison, weighs 400,000lbs. To help steady it during take-offs and landings, the plane was guided by runners and cyclists.

Solar Impulse 2 pilots Bertrand Piccard, left, and Andre Borschberg
(Aya Batrawy/AP)

Despite its historic mission, the Solar Impluse 2´s journey was far from quick or problem-free.

The pilots faced a nine-month delay a year ago after the plane's batteries were damaged during a flight from Japan to Hawaii. It was also delayed for more than a week in Cairo ahead of its final flight to Abu Dhabi when Piccard fell ill, and due to poor weather conditions.

Over its entire mission, Solar Impluse 2 completed more than 500 flight hours, cruising at an average speed of between 28 and 56mph. It made stops in Oman, India, Burma, China, Japan, the US, Spain, Italy, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

The Solar Impulse 2 plane prepares to land at the San Pablo airport in Seville
(Laura Leon/AP)

The carbon-fibre plane is a single-seater aircraft, meaning its two Swiss pilots - Piccard and Andre Borschberg - had to take turns flying solo for long days and nights. To calm their minds and manage fatigue during the long solo flights, Borschberg practised yoga and Piccard self-hypnosis.

In a statement this week, Borschberg said it was no longer a question of whether it was possible to fly without fuel or polluting emissions.

"By flying around the world thanks to renewable energy and clean technologies, we have demonstrated that we can now make our world more energy efficient," he said.

Bertrand Piccard, left, and Andre Borschberg, right,
(Adam Schreck/AP)

It took 70 hours for Piccard to cross the Atlantic Ocean, which was the first by a solar-powered plane.

Borschberg's flight over the Pacific Ocean at 118 hours - five days and five nights - shattered the record for the longest flight duration by an aircraft flying solo.

Neither pilot was able to stand in the cockpit while flying, but the seat reclined for stretching and its cushion could be removed for access to a toilet. Goggles worn over the pilot's eyes flashed lights to wake him up while armbands placed underneath their suits buzzed when the plane was not at flying level.

Pilot Bertrand Piccard celebrates after landing the solar-powered plane at San Pablo airport in Seville
(Laura Leon/AP)

Piccard, a psychiatrist, is the son of undersea explorer Jacques Piccard and a grandson of balloonist Auguste Piccard. In 1999, he became the first person to circumnavigate the globe non-stop in a hot air balloon.

Borschberg, an engineer and graduate of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is also an entrepreneur. He launched the Solar Impulse project in 2003 with Mr Piccard.

The project is estimated to cost more than £76 million. The UAE-based Masdar, the Abu Dhabi government's clean-energy company, was a main sponsor of the flight and there were more than 40 additional sponsors, including Omega, Belgian chemical company Solvay, Swedish-Swiss automation corporation ABB, Swiss manufacturer Schindler, Google and Moet Hennessey.