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A Solar-Powered Plane Has Completed the First Ever Trans-Atlantic Flight

Si2 has arrived in Europe after 71 hours and 8 minutes of flying over the Atlantic Ocean.

by Emiko Jozuka
Jun 23 2016, 11:10am

The Solar Impulse 2 lands in Seville, Spain. Image: Solar Impulse

Remember that solar-powered, electric plane that's flying around the world? It's just made history by successfully completing the first ever sun-powered, zero-emissions trans-Atlantic flight.

Setting off from New York at 2:30 AM on June 20, 2016, pilot Bertrand Piccard spent a total of 71 hours and 8 minutes in the air, flying at 28,000 feet and covering a distance of 4,203 miles before landing in Seville, Spain, at 7:38 AM local time.

"Crossing the Atlantic ocean is challenging. The plane is sensitive to turbulence, so we have to plan the route carefully and identify the perfect weather window," Alexandra Gindroz, head of Solar Impulse's media relations, told me over the phone.

She stressed how it was important for the plane to navigate between weather fronts to stay in calm weather. Fortunately, the weather, said Gindroz, had been stable during the arduous flight over the Atlantic, with a good tail wind speeding up the plane's journey, and spatterings of cloud—that could block the sun from powering the craft—luckily located either in front or behind the solar plane.

The Solar Impulse 2 has a 72 meter wingspan, is covered in 17,248 photovoltaic cells that power four batteries that in turn power four electric engines. Throughout the global round-trip, pilots and company co-founders Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg have been taking it in turns to fly the plane. The challenges faced by these pilots are pretty tough, however.

"You have to imagine that the pilot is alone in an unpressurized cockpit so he has to wear an oxygen mask for a few hours a day when flying at high altitudes (28'000 feet). He can also only rest 20 minutes; taking these as short naps at night during calm weather," explained Gindroz.

Next up, the Solar Impulse will be stopping off at either Greece or Egypt, before finally making its way to Abu Dhabi, from where it first started its trip.

Gindroz remained excited by the future potential of solar flight.

"Last year we were proving that it was possible to fly—it was more of an exploration as it had never been done before. But now with this flight we have the confirmation," said Gindroz. "This is the first zero-emission, solar trans-Atlantic flight. It shows that both this aviation technology and renewable energy works."