By Katie Peige
Almost three years to the day, Phoenix was once again audience to history in the making as André Borschberg successfully glided the Solar Impulse 2 to a smooth landing at the Phoenix Goodyear Airport around 9:00 p.m on the night of May 2. The landing ended the second leg in the U.S. of the around-the-world journey after Borschberg flew for about 16 hours from Mountain View, California.
The last time Phoenix welcomed the Swiss solar spectacle and its team was in 2013 around 3:00 a.m. The sight of a slow-moving, almost silent flying apparatus in the sky caused such a fright, that over a thousand phone calls were made to 911 claiming a UFO had been seen. Back then, the Solar Impulse 1 was proving it could fly across America powered completely by the sun. Now, the second iteration (SI2) has bigger plans as it attempts to be the first solar airplane to fly around the world. The Solar Impulse team hopes that no one will mistake the solar airplane for a UFO, but instead recognize that current solar technologies can create this paradox of a solar craft flying at night.
SI2 can accomplish this thanks to no fewer than 17,248 solar cells built into the carbon fiber wings that stretch a total of 236 feet. The plane seats two and weighs 5,100 pounds. The combination of the light plane coupled with the massive wingspan almost caused problems the night it landed in Phoenix last month. Before the pilot could get out, a gust of wind nearly sent the plane airborne, causing the crew to run and pull the plane down with poles in a scene reminiscent of balloon handlers at the Macy’s Day Parade.
The SI2 project is attempting to prove that the technology exists to fly a person around the world without a single drop of fuel. This has been the dream of Bertrand Piccard, the other pilot and visionary of Solar Impulse, ever since he flew around the world in a balloon back in 1999.
Piccard initiated the project with Borschberg in 2002. Piccard said at the landing in Phoenix, “If we can fly [continuously in a solar airplane], of course it means that these technologies are reliable and they can be used everywhere… When we speak of climate change, we speak of protection of the environment…We have to understand that today we have profitable solutions. It’s not just a question of spending money to protect nature, it’s a question of developing a clean technology industry that will at the same time protect the environment but also create jobs and open up new economic opportunities. It’s the beginning of something new. In a way, it’s already a step into the future.”
The SI2 team attributed the decision to land in Phoenix again to the good weather, the plentiful sunlight, and the hope that the sight of the plane will inspire greater adoption of solar technology in Arizona.
The plane stayed at the Phoenix Goodyear Airport until Thursday, May 12, when it took off at around 3:00 a.m., disappearing onto the eastern horizon. Eighteen hours later, the SI2, this time piloted by Piccard, landed in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The SI2 will continue flying across the U.S. with its last stop in New York City before taking off across the Atlantic Ocean. The last stop of the adventure will be Abu Dhabi, the same city where the plane took off for its journey around the world in March 2015.
For more information on the Solar Impulse, its creators and schedule, visit solarimpulse.com
Katie Peige is an Education and Community Outreach Coordinator at Arizona State University. Katie just earned her Master’s degree in Sustainability Solutions. This article is the second time Katie has covered the Solar Impulse for Green Living magazine.
Photos by Johanna Campbell
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