Solar Plane Completes First Solar-Powered Flight Around the World

On Tuesday, July 26th, Solar Impulse II completed the very first solar-powered flight around the world. This solar plane used nothing but the power of the sun to fuel its long journey around the world, which started in March 2015. Pilots Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg accomplished over 500 flight hours, landing in Abu Dhabi where they started. Solar Impulse II flew 26,744 miles completely powered by the sun using over 17,000 solar cells located on the plane’s wings.

While Solar Impulse II isn’t the first solar plane ever built, it is the first solar airplane to travel around the world without any other fuel source. The Solar Impulse II has the weight of a car, but the wingspan of a Boeing 797, making it the lightest aircraft ever built for its size.


How Does a Solar Plane Work? (Solar Impulse II)

Like mentioned earlier, the Solar Impulse II is a solar plane that uses more than 17,000 solar cells on its wings to absorb the sun’s rays for the conversion of electricity. The Solar Impulse’s website explains the process of solar energy:

“A photovoltaic cell is made of a semiconductor material (i.e. material that can conduct electricity while still acting as an insulating material) like silicon, which is extracted from molten sand. This material is made up of atoms, which are nuclei of particles around which electrons gravitate. When light, composed of photons, comes into contact with atoms, it activates the electrons which move in all directions. The agitation of these electrons generates a continuous current of electricity.” –

During the day, the sun’s rays convert into electricity, which then powers the solar plane’s motors. At night, the excess electricity that wasn’t used during the day is stored in the batteries of the plane so it can fly when the sun goes down. For the pilots to fly the solar plane throughout the night until sunrise, the batteries must have a charge of 100%.


The Take-Away

While it is an awesome feat to accomplish flying around the world with the sole power of the sun, the pilots do make it clear that this single-seat solar plane isn’t meant for passengers. “Solar Impulse was not built to carry passengers, but to carry messages. We want to demonstrate the importance of the pioneering spirit, to encourage people to question what they’ve always taken for granted. The world need to find new ways of improving the quality of life. Clean technologies and renewable forms of energy are part of the solution.” – Pilot, Bertrand Piccard 

The idea behind this solar-powered voyage is to show the world that clean, renewable energy can be made possible in all aspects to improve our lives. Maybe then, others will follow suit not only in the air, but even more so on the ground to reduce our carbon footprint. “I’m sure that within 10 years we’ll see electric airplanes transporting 50 passengers on short to medium haul flights. But it’s not enough. The same clean technologies used on Solar Impulse could be implemented on the ground in our daily life.” – Pilot, Bertrand Piccard