Around the world on zero fuel

March 10, 2015

‘Around the world in 80 days’ is so 19th Century. Solar-powered, five-month tours of the planet are the new artisanal escape.

Today the Solar Impulse 2 took off from Muscat, Oman, on the second of 12 legs in its quest to become the first plane to circle the globe using solar power alone. Swiss pilots Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg will alternate flying the craft during approximately 25 flight days between now and July; during the journey’s longest stint in the air, one of the two will fly solo over the Pacific for five days and nights—some 5,200 miles.

As this Reuters graphic shows, the plane weighs 5,100 pounds—a bit more than a minivan—but its 236 foot wingspan is almost 40 feet broader than a Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Over 17,000 solar cells on the wings and horizontal stabilizer will collect energy to power the plane’s nighttime flight. The trip will be slow—a close viewing of this Reuters video shows the second leg takeoff being paced by bicycles—but by plugging away day and night at 30- to 60-miles-per hour, with breaks between stages, the duo hopes to arrive back in Abu Dhabi a record-setting five months and 22,000 miles from now.

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