AUDREY MCAVOY, Associated Press
CALEB JONES, Associated Press
KAPOLEI, Hawaii (AP) — A solar plane on an around-the-world journey has reached the point of no return over the Pacific Ocean after departing Hawaii, and now it’s California or bust.
The plane was cruising over the cold northern Pacific early Friday — Earth Day — an occasion the team planned to mark with a live call between pilot Bertrand Piccard and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, according to the website that’s documenting the journey of Solar Impulse 2.
After some uncertainty about winds, the plane took off from Hawaii Thursday morning and was on course to land in Mountain View, California, over the weekend. The crew that helped it take off was clearing out of its Hawaiian hangar and headed for the mainland for the weekend arrival.
“We have passed the point of no return,” the team wrote on the website. “From this point onwards, Bertrand Piccard will only be moving forward with Si2.”
At one point passengers on a Hawaiian Air jet caught a glimpse of the Solar Impulse 2 before the powerful airliner sped past the slow-moving aircraft.
The Solar Impulse 2 landed in Hawaii in July and was forced to stay in the islands after the plane’s battery system sustained heat damage on its trip from Japan.
The aircraft started its around-the-world journey in March 2015 from Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, and made stops in Oman, Myanmar, China and Japan. It’s on the ninth leg of its circumnavigation.
ABB, a leading power and automation technology company, is proud to accompany Solar Impulse and its crew on the plane’s flight around the world powered only by energy from the sun.
“One of our goals for this historic round-the-world journey and for our technology partnership with Solar Impulse is to demonstrate that you can separate economic growth from environmental impacts with help from smarter and more sustainable technologies,” said Greg Scheu, president, Americas region, ABB. “Renewable energy, microgrids, battery storage, higher efficiency standards — these all show that we can power the world without consuming the earth.”
Three ABB engineers have joined the Solar Impulse team where they are contributing expertise and passion. Their work includes improving control systems for ground operations, enhancing the charging electronics for the plane’s battery systems and resolving obstacles that emerge along the route.
“We had to build an aircraft with an extremely efficient grid: from the electric motors to the batteries and the management system,” said Solar Impulse pilot and CEO, André Borschberg. “What we have is a system that captures its own energy, converts it into electricity, and stores it and manages its consumption in a sustainable way. This is exactly what ABB is doing on the ground with its distributed energy resources or microgrids.”
“If Solar Impulse can fly day and night around the world with no fossil fuel, it demonstrates that these technologies are now mature and ready for the market so everyone can use them,” said Solar Impulse pilot and chairman, Bertrand Piccard. “ABB gives credibility to what we are doing, because it is doing it on the ground.”
Piccard, said the idea of crossing the ocean in a solar-powered plane a few years ago stressed him out, but Thursday he was confident things would go according to plan.
Piccard also said the destination in the heart of Silicon Valley is fitting, as the plane will land “in the middle of the pioneering spirit.”
Piccard’s co-pilot Andre Borschberg, who flew the leg from Japan to Hawaii, told Piccard he greatly admires his dedication and strength.
He said the plane “represents what we could do on the ground in our communities.”
The team was delayed in Asia, as well. When first attempting to fly from Nanjing, China, to Hawaii, the crew had to divert to Japan because of unfavorable weather and a damaged wing.
A month later, when weather conditions were right, the plane departed from Nagoya in central Japan for Hawaii.
The trans-Pacific leg is the riskiest part of the plane’s global travels due to the lack of emergency landing sites.
The plane’s ideal flight speed is about 28 mph, though that can double during the day when the sun’s rays are strongest. The carbon-fiber aircraft weighs more than 5,000 pounds, or about as much as a midsize truck.
The wings of Solar Impulse 2, which stretch wider than those of a Boeing 747, are equipped with 17,000 solar cells that power propellers and charge batteries. The plane runs on stored energy at night.
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