Meet The Guy Who Flew The First Solar Powered Flight Around The World

You might already be aware of its starring role on Earth, but now solar power is in the sky, too! At an increasing rate, solar has graced residential and commercial properties around the world. With more solar power Las Vegas going live each day, it seems that this popular form of renewable energy knows no bounds. But solar technology keeps getting better, and one recent innovation that’s attracted attention is its use on airplanes. Solar energy was the choice of power for the Solar Impulse 2, which was the first solar-powered flight around the world. Solar technology and the vision of a man named Bertrand Piccard are credited with the aircraft’s world-famous flight. 


Who Is Bertrand Piccard? 

Bertrand Piccard is a Swiss psychiatrist, scientist, and intrepid explorer. He developed the idea for embarking on a solar-powered flight after attempting a slow-going journey around the world via hot air balloon in the late 1990s. During that flight, Piccard lamented the fact that he was constantly watching his fuel supplies and always worried if he had enough. Instead of opting to carry more fuel, however, Piccard decided that the best solution was to fly fuel-free. That made him turn to solar energy, which is an abundant and renewable source of power. 

Turning Dreams Into Reality 

Although he thought the idea was great, Piccard’s solar-powered plane was initially met with some skepticism. The scientist first sought out partnerships in the field of aviation, but his plans were not met with enthusiasm. Told that it couldn’t be done, he turned his focus instead to the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. There, he met and partnered with an engineer named Andre Borschberg, who formerly flew in the Swiss Air Force. Part by part, plans for the plane’s construction began in 2003. The duo went back to the proverbial chalkboard many times, and eventually unveiled the plane’s final design in 2016. For more information on the long journey it took to build the plane, visit the Smithsonian.com website

The End Product 

After working on the plane’s design for years, Borschberg and Piccard finally debuted the finished plane. The Solar Impulse 2 has a massive wingspan that exceeds the wingspan of a Boeing 747. However, at 5,000 pounds, the plane is light as a feather by aviation standards. In fact, its weight is about the equivalent of a vehicle, which is a far cry from most commercial planes! One of the main reasons why the solar power plane is so lightweight is that it does not have heavy components that are required to use fuel. Instead of an engine and gasoline, the plane is powered by more than 17,000 solar photovoltaic cells! That’s certainly more than most solar power Las Vegas systems. 

After the plane was unveiled, it was time to fly! The pair successfully circumnavigated the world to complete the world’s first solar-powered flight. Despite encountering technical issues, bad weather, and uncertainties along the way, they ended their journey to the tune of cheering crowds in Abu Dhabi.