We've been tracking the sun-powered plane known as Solar Impulse for years as it roved hither and yon. Today, Solar Impulse's pilots, Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg, came to NASA's Ames research center to announce their plan to fly across America. The cross-country tour will begin in the Bay Area and end in New York, with stops in Phoenix, Dallas and Washington DC in between. Solar Impulse will also land in either Atlanta, Nashville or St. Louis, with the plane and its pilots set to stay in each locale for about a week to ten days to talk about the project before moving on. For the next month, Piccard and Borschberg will perform test flights around the Bay Area in preparation, and the plan is for the journey to start on May 1st, with an estimated arrival in Gotham sometime in early July.
Solar Impulse Across America event
The point of this new flight is to inspire and educate the public in general of the benefits of renewable energy and efficiency, and to encourage school children and university students in particular to "think off the grid" and innovate and invent on their own. To that end, the pilots will be broadcasting live transmissions and allowing the public to speak with them as they fly, in addition to providing access to flight planning information on the Solar Impulse website. Read on to learn a bit more about the Solar Impulse project and it's future plans.
During their presentation, Piccard and Borschberg also chatted a bit about their next big challenge, a solar-powered flight around the world in 2015. You see, the current Solar Impulse aircraft is merely a test mule, that has allowed the pair to learn much about solar powered flight. However, there have been advances in materials science, battery technology, electric motors and production processes since the plane first flew over three years ago. So, the new plane will have a larger cockpit that's "at least as comfortable as business class," according to Borschberg, to make the longer journey easier on the pilots. You see, because the current plane is so uncomfortable, it's only suited for being piloted for 24 hours or so continuously. By comparison, the aircraft destined to circumnavigate the globe will be flown for five full days at a time.
Of course, that begs the question: exactly how will Piccard and Borschberg be able to pilot a plane for a full workweek without sleeping? Well, Piccard fights fatigue through auto hypnosis, while Borschberg utilizes meditation to rest his mind and body. In preparation for the grueling global journey, they are also spending time in flight simulators to test out resting strategies (i.e. short naps) as the limits of the human body to do without sleep tops out around 36 hours. And, folks leery of having an unmanned solar plane flying overhead needn't worry -- the pilots will only be micro-napping while flying over oceans, not over land.