Plane speak . Solar Impulse 2 is a joint project between Solar Impulse and Abu Dhabi’s renewable energy company Masdar Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi For their pioneering around-the-world trip aboard a solar powered plane, which will take off from Abu Dhabi next year, pilots Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg are counting on more than just plenty of sunshine.

In an exclusive interview with XPRESS, the two Swiss pilots said the biggest challenge while flying Solar Impulse 2 for 25 days is fighting sleep. Yoga and hypnosis are what they hope will keep them charged as they take off from Abu Dhabi in March 2015 to circumnavigate the world.

“Theoretically Solar Impulse could fly forever. One of the main challenges is the pilot’s sustainability,” said Piccard, pilot and co-founder of Solar Impulse – the company that has developed the solar plane known as Solar Impulse 2 as a joint project with Abu Dhabi’s renewable energy company Masdar.

The flight, which will depart from Abu Dhabi in March next year, aims to complete 25 flying days around the globe before touching down in Abu Dhabi again in July.

Rigorous training

“There will be no sleep over populated areas, and we have developed techniques to relax the body while remaining awake. I got trained at hypnosis and self-hypnosis. The first training took place in a simulator. I made a total of 86 hours of activity with periods of 20 minutes of hypnosis or poly-phasic sleep a dozen times per day,” he said.

“During resting periods, the technique is to dissociate the head from the body. The body can regenerate into a very deep relaxation while keeping the brain alert enough to check the instruments and follow what happens during the flight,” explained the pilot.

On his part, Borschberg said he draws support on a holistic level to face the physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual challenges from his yoga guru Sanjeev Bhanot.

“We developed special exercises in order to improve blood circulation active and relax muscles. These were more postures than exercises, in some way derived from yoga. I also do a lot of meditation in order to be able to relax and breathe properly during the flight,” said Borschberg.

Piccard and Borschberg will take turns in flying the first green plane that will cruise over the Arabian Sea, India, Myanmar, China, the Pacific Ocean, the United States, the Atlantic Ocean, and southern Europe or North Africa, before closing the loop and returning to Abu Dhabi in July 2015. The journey is expected to take around 25 flight days, spread across three or four months.

Solar Impulse 2 that will not use fuel or emissions will derive its energy from solar rays captured by 17,000 panels on a wingspan that is wider than that of a jumbo 747 passenger jet. The plane will weigh just about 2,300 kg and will have a cruising altitude of 27,000 feet at a speed of 140 km/h.

The 11-year old project cost approximately $150 million.

The aircraft will arrive in Abu Dhabi by cargo to coincide with the World Future Energy Summit and Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week taking place in January 2015.

The plane will be assembled and tested before the actual journey. During each flight on the trip, Piccard and Borschberg will have access to six oxygen bottles, a parachute, a life raft, and food and water rations for a week.

Till now, the Solar Impulse has made 26-hour and 19-hour test flights.




Speaking about the technical preparations that are underway, Piccard and Borschberg said 20 specialists are in place to anticipate every possible scenario and transmit information enabling the pilots to follow the optimum flight plan and complete the mission successfully. That includes the flight director, meteorologists, mathematicians, weather forecasters, engineers and the communication team and finance directorate.

When asked whether their trailblazing experiment can change the future course of aviation industry, Piccard said, “Solar Impulse was not built to carry passengers, but to carry messages.”

“Our primary purpose is not to revolutionise aviation, but the way in which people think about energy and clean technologies. If Solar Impulse technologies were used on a massive scale, the world would be able to save up to 50 per cent of the current consumption of fossil energy and produce half of the rest with renewable energies,” said Borschberg.

As for the aviation industry, the pilots said it is well aware of its need to change. However, this cannot be done quite as drastically as with Solar Impulse.

“But solar drones can be used as telecommunications platforms at lower prices than satellites. We will surely see small solar seater planes soon. However, we do not foresee solar-powered commercial aircraft in the near future,” added Borschberg.