After 9-Month Delay, Record-Breaking Solar Plane Prepares For Liftoff

Apr 15, 2016
Originally published on May 3, 2016 9:12 am

A solar-powered plane called the Solar Impulse 2 is preparing to resume its flight around the world after nine months on the ground for repairs.

The team's goal: to be the first plane to circumnavigate the globe using only solar power.

NPR's Geoff Brumfiel tells our Newscast unit that the plane is getting ready for liftoff in Hawaii. Here's more from Geoff:

"The plane ... is waiting for the right weather conditions before it takes off. Solar Impulse has been grounded since July after a five-day, nonstop flight from Japan to Hawaii fried its batteries, which it needs to fly during the nighttime. The Swiss-based team who built the plane made repairs over the winter."

The plane has "the wingspan of a Boeing 747, but weighs no more than a mid-sized car," Geoff adds.

In a statement, the Solar Impulse team heralds the plane as "the first solar airplane capable of flying day and night without using a drop of fuel."

As we reported last year, the 117-hour journey from Japan to Hawaii that fried the plane's batteries also "shattered the previous record for the longest duration nonstop solo flight, with pilot André Borschberg ... [one of two pilots who alternate legs of the trip] at the controls."

The team started in Abu Dhabi and hope to eventually finish there.

And "the first Mission Flight of this year will be long, lasting several days in order to cross the rest of the Pacific Ocean from Hawaii to North America," the team said in a blog post.

"As we experienced many times with Solar Impulse, obstacles often turn out to be opportunities for improvement," Borschberg said in a statement. "Ultimately, this time was used to recreate the strong mindset within the team to continue our adventure. It takes sometimes more time to build up the right spirit then to develop new technologies."

While in Hawaii, they carried out 13 maintenance and training flights to make sure the aircraft is in working order and to get the pilots ready for the rest of the journey.

Bertrand Piccard, the other pilot, said in a statement that their trip is about more than breaking records — it's about showing what's possible using clean technology.

"The primary purpose of this adventure is to demonstrate that modern clean technologies can achieve the impossible and encourage everyone to use these same energy efficient solutions on the ground in their daily lives for mobility, construction, lighting, heating, cooling and more," Piccard said.

We'll keep you updated on their progress.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.