Solar Plane Preparing for Toughest Journey

Solar Impulse 2's Pacific crossing could begin as soon as Thursday
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted May 5, 2015 12:23 PM CDT
Solar Plane Preparing for Toughest Journey
Swiss pilot Andre Boschberg speaks to journalists near the aircraft Solar Impulse 2 at the airport in Nanjing in east China's Jiangsu province Monday, May 4, 2015.   (Chinatopix via AP)

Two months after beginning a 21,700-mile, round-the-world journey, the Solar Impulse 2 is about to embark on its toughest challenge yet: a Pacific Ocean crossing. While a typical aircraft can make the trip in 12 hours, the Impulse 2, which runs entirely on solar power and travels between 20mph and 90mph, will take five days and five nights to fly from Nanjing, China, to Honolulu, Wired reports. Amazingly, there will be a single pilot at the controls during the leg. Andre Borschberg and fellow Swiss pilot Bertrand Piccard will nap in the plane's 35-cubic-foot insulated cockpit—which will range in temperature from 95 degrees to minus 4 degrees, the AP reports—in 20-minute intervals, six to eight times a day, as Borschberg maneuvers the aircraft with help from the autopilot. Piccard will take over during the next 3,000-mile leap from Honolulu to Phoenix, which should take four days.

"It's very interesting how the human mind can adapt to this type of new situation," Piccard says. In a tweet, Borschberg says the journey "will be the flight of my life." The pair have practiced meditation, breathing exercises, and yoga during long stretches in a flight simulator to help with the journey from Nanjing, which could begin as soon as Thursday, though specific weather conditions are required for takeoff. Mashable reports liftoff is scheduled for Monday. So far, the pair have flown about 5,000 miles over six of 12 legs, the longest of which took just 20 hours. This time around, the Impulse 2 team can only accurately predict the weather up to three days into the trip, though small changes to the flight route can be made to avoid bad weather. Other than the monotony, the food sounds pretty good: specially made Nestle meals include mushroom risotto and chicken with rice. (More solar airplane stories.)

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