Solar Plane Pilots Promote Clean Power Possibilities

The pilot of the Solar Impulse, a completely sun-powered airplane, wanted to show that renewable energy and clean technology can achieve the impossible: flying without fuel.

by Joyce Gannon, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette / May 20, 2016
Solar Impulse 2 flying over the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Flickr/Solar Impulse

(TNS) -- The pilots of Solar Impulse — an aircraft attempting to travel around the world using power from the sun instead of fuel — told a Pittsburgh audience this morning their goal is to not only complete their global round trip this year but to demonstrate the benefits of developing clean technologies and products.

“This project became about energy-efficiency, not just a new airplane,” said Andre Borschberg, 63, one of the plane’s pilots and an engineer who co-founded the privately-funded Solar Impulse initiative.

“We want to show that renewable energy and clean technology can achieve the impossible: to fly without fuel,” said Bertrand Piccard, 58, the other pilot and an aviation pioneer who spearheaded Solar Impulse in 2003.

The aircraft landed in Tulsa, Okla., May 12 and could take off for its next target destination, New York City, as soon as this weekend, Mr. Borschberg said.

After that it will cross the Atlantic Ocean to Europe and eventually make its way back to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates where it began the journey in March 2015.

The Solar Impulse crew initially projected it would fly around the world in four months but after several stops in Asia, it was grounded in Hawaii from July until last month. During that time the crew made adjustments to the batteries that store its solar energy because they had overheated during the prior flight from Japan, said Mr. Borschberg.

The plane runs on 17,000 solar cells in its wings, fuselage and tail that power electric motors and propellers.

On April 21, it departed for Mountain View, Calif., then stopped in Phoenix before landing in Tulsa last week.

Solar Impulse has a strong connection to Pittsburgh because its lead corporate sponsor, Covestro, has its North American base in Robinson.

The materials company supplied the polyurethane foam used in the plane’s cockpit, polycarbonates used for its scratch-resistant windscreen, and coatings and adhesives that cover the plane’s wings.

Covestro’s logo appears on the tail and the side of the aircraft.

Mr. Piccard and Mr. Borschberg made their remarks during a briefing at the Energy Innovation Center in the Hill District where Covestro announced a new partnership to supply sustainable products for that facility.

Almost 3,000 square feet in conference and classroom space currently being renovated at the center will be renamed the Covestro BrightSpace.

It includes Covestro insulation and coatings similar to what it supplied for Solar Impulse, said Jerry MacCleary, president of Covestro’s North American region.

“Solar Impulse is the flying laboratory of our materials,” he said. “And the Energy Innovation Center is our laboratory on the ground.”

©2016 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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