Solar Plane from China Hawaii-Bound

Hawaii visitors may have a rare opportunity catch a glimpse aviation history in the making this week.

Although bad weather conditions Monday forced the plane to land in Japan on its way to Hawaii from China, the Solar Impulse 2, a completely solar-powered plane, could land in Hawaii as early as Friday. The visit would complete it’s seventh leg in a twelve-leg journey around the world and shatter the world record for longest solo flight.

The 8,000-kilometer (4,971-mile) journey from Nanjing, China, to Hawaii — dubbed the “moment of truth” by alternating Swiss pilots Andre Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard –was delayed several times due to weather over the Pacific. But, the plane is now in route to Hawaii and may even be visible to spectators as it lands and takes off.

Solar Impulse 2 in flight.

According to Mission Director Raymond Clerc, the latest route would see Solar Impulse fly over South Korea and northwest of Japan before heading out across the Pacific, and may take slightly longer than planned–potentially landing in Hawaii on the evening of Day 6.

Borschberg, a former fighter pilot in addition to being the CEO and cofounder of Solar Impulse, will be at the controls alone for the entire 130-hour flight. He expressed excitement for the flight after weeks of holdups. According to CNN, he will spend the entire trip in the 3.8-cubic-meter cockpit, strapped into a special seat that serves both as bed (it reclines, allowing him to do essential exercises and to rest) and toilet.

At night, if there is no turbulence, Borschberg will be able activate the autopilot and nap, but only for 20 minutes at a time. The aircraft is equipped with oxygen bottles, a parachute and a life raft in case it gets into trouble and Borschberg has to ditch midflight.

Borschberg, CEO and cofounder of Solar Impulse, is the pilot for Solar Impulse 2 and will be in the air alone for at least five days and five nights, the Solar Impulse 2 crew said. From Solar Impulse 2’s Mission Control Center in Monaco, Piccard said he hopes his teammate has a safe journey to Hawaii, but he’s realistic about the challenges they face.

In an interview with CNN last month: “Maybe it will fail. Andre and I are very clear with ourselves, that maybe we’ll bail out.”

“Andre, my solar brother,” Piccard said in a streamed YouTube video. “You are about to accomplish the greatest flight ever of Solar Impulse. You carry the dreams we have been building together.”

Prince Albert II of Monaco and Piccard gave the “go” for Borschberg’s flight to Hawaii from China.

“Crossing the Pacific from China to Hawaii in Si2 will be the ultimate test of endurance for both the pilot and the plane,” Solar Impulse said in a news release. Selecting the right window of time to fly was crucial as the plane — with the wingspan of a commercial airliner and the weight of a car — is sensitive to turbulence, Solar Impulse said. Replacing the need for fossil fuels, the single-seater aircraft has 17,000 solar cells built into the wing supply, four electric motors and lithium batteries.

Piccard said he looks forward to Borschberg handing over the plane’s controls, as Piccard will pilot the plane for the next leg of the journey to Phoenix.

“I look forward to seeing you in Hawaii,” Piccard said.

Solar Impulse 2 left March 9 from Abu Dhabi for the planned 25,000-mile trip around the world.

Posted by: Bruce Fisher