Solar plane flying around the world lands in India

On a daring mission to circumnavigate the world, Solar Impulse 2 arrived at the Ahmedabad airport from Muscat late in the night yesterday; this lightweight plane is powered by 17,000 solar cells

Anxious faces paced about at Ahmedabad airport yesterday, waiting for a plane to land. But these were not relatives awaiting the arrival of a loved one. These were officials from the airport preparing for the landing of Solar Impulse 2, the world’s first circumnavigating solar plane, which began its journey on March 9.


Solar Impulse 2

A white-coloured hangar, nearly 10 metres tall, has been created at Ahmedabad airport to identify its landing point. The plane landed at 11.25 pm. mid-day had first reported about this pioneering mission on October 28, 2014, co-founded by two Swiss men businessman Andre Borschberg and psychiatrist and adventurist Bertrand Piccard.

Solar Impulse 2 has stops in Muscat, Ahmedabad, Varanasi, Myanmar and China. After crossing the Pacific Ocean via Hawaii, it will fly across the US, stopping in Phoenix, Midwest, and New York City. The final legs include a stop-over in Southern Europe or North Africa before returning to Abu Dhabi
Solar Impulse 2 has stops in Muscat, Ahmedabad, Varanasi, Myanmar and China. After crossing the Pacific Ocean via Hawaii, it will fly across the US, stopping in Phoenix, Midwest, and New York City. The final legs include a stop-over in Southern Europe or North Africa before returning to Abu Dhabi

Piccard flew the single-seater plane, powered by 17,000 solar cells, from Muscat, Oman. There are 80 members in the team, along with the second pilot, who follow the flight and set up camp at all its stop-overs. They carry all important equipment and gear, and set up a temporary tent which prevents the aircraft from losing its stored power.

Bertrand Piccard gives a thumbs-up from the cockpit before landing in Ahmedabad
Bertrand Piccard gives a thumbs-up from the cockpit before landing in Ahmedabad

“These tents are set up at places where airports aren’t large enough. At Ahmedabad, we have set up a complete new hangar for Solar Impulse-2,” said Peter Stierli, country head (communication), ABB India, one of the companies that is partnering in the project. Apart from the travelling 80, a team of 20 people in Monaco is monitoring the flight.

Unique features
The plane is extremely lightweight only 2,300 kg slightly more than the weight of a standard SUV and doesn’t use even a single drop of fuel. Its body is made of carbon fibre and its wingspan of 72 metres is larger than a Boeing 747. It flies at higher altitudes in the day to catch the sunrays, and descends at night.

A key fact is that the aircraft doesn’t have pressurised cabins, and, hence, the pilot is subjected to temperature changes outside, which fluctuates from –40 to 40 degree Celsius. The cockpit has no air conditioning or heating, but is insulated. Thus, the team in Monaco has their eye on the flight’s parameters always.

“These 20 people monitor every movement of the aircraft and the pilot,” said an official involved in the flight operation. This includes observing the pilot’s blood pressure, blood oxygen, heart rates, charge in the cells, and other technical details. They also keep in touch with the pilot, informing him of movement of other aircraft nearby.

It can fly only up to 100 kmph, which means the pilots have to fly for days continuously, and are only allowed 20-minute naps. The pilot is expected to maintain his concentration and vigilance by self-hypnosis and meditation and both pilots trained with Indian yoga expert Sanjiv Bhanot, who is based in Geneva.

The two pilots work in alternating shifts and Borschberg is expected to take over flying duties in Ahmedabad. The entire aircraft was created digitally. “Every nut and bolt, engines, the comfort and ergonomics of the cockpit were designed digitally.

The weight, size and length of the wingspan too were designed in 3D simulation software so as to eliminate any manufacturing faults,” said Chandan Chowdhury, managing director, Dassault Systemes, the firm which designed the plane.

Piccard and Borschberg are expected to stay in Ahmedabad for two days, during which they will reach out to the government, NGOs, universities and schools to spread the message about clean technology. The aircraft is also likely to hover above the Ganga river in Varanasi its next stop to spread the message of cleanliness and clean energy, an official associated with the project said.

Know Solar Impulse

>> The plane took off from Abu Dhabi, UAE on March 9

>> The solar-powered airplane made its maiden flight in Switzerland in June last year

>> The 17,000 monocrystalline solar cells built into the wings supply four electric motors (17.5 CV each) with renewable energy

>> During the day, the solar cells recharge the lithium batteries weighing 633 kg, allowing the aircraft to fly day and night

>> Armbands placed underneath the pilot’s suits will buzz if the plane isn’t flying level, while an electronic co-pilot keeps the plane steady when they take a short nap. However, the plane is too delicate for autopilot, so they must frequently take back control.

>> The plane will reach an altitude of around 28,000 feet during the day to catch the sun’s rays. At night it will dip to around 5,000 feet when flying overthe ocean

Voices

Sanjeev Bhanot, yoga expert
The aasan, Antasthayog, helps in proper supply of blood, from the brain to the spine to legs. There is a carbon fibre bar inside the cockpit to stretch the hands and muscles.

Andre Borschberg, one of the pilots
When I flew to Muscat, there was minimum power in the aircraft’s lithium batteries. By the time I climbed to 7,000 feet, they got charged. The higher we fly, the better it is for us. We have been training ourselves with yoga to keep fit. I love Varanasi and so I will be landing there.

- With inputs from Agencies

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