Solar aircraft expected by midnight in Ahmedabad
A solar powered aircraft -- Solar Impulse 2 (Si2) -- on a global flight has entered Indian airspace and is expected to land here before midnight, officials said.
It has been built not just to fly around the world without an iota of fuel, but also carry a message demonstrating effectiveness of clean technologies and importance of sustainability.
Powered only by the Sun's rays, the aircraft took off from Muscat (Oman) on Monday and flew over Pakistan before entering Indian airspace over the Arabian Sea towards Gujarat, an official of the Aditya Birla Group, which is hosting the flight here, said.
"It is flying at a speed of around 60 kmph -- or roughly equivalent to a scooter -- under different weather conditions. We expect it to land anytime before midnight," the official, requesting anonymity, told IANS here.
The Si2 is the brainchild of founders Bertrand Piccard -- a psychiatrist who flew around the world in a hot-air balloon in 1999 -- and former Swiss fighter pilot Andre Borschberg -- also an experienced flight design engineer -- who are alternating at the aircraft controls.
"Si2 fits in with our strategy of creativity, innovation and drive and it drives the message of synergising growth with responsibility. We are delighted to be the India host on its ground-breaking flight around the world," said Aditya Birla Grop chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla.
The revolutionary single-seater aircraft is made of carbon fiber, with the 72-metre wingspan, larger than a Boeing 747 but weighing 2,300 kgs, or as much as a family car.
Its 17,248 solar cells and four lithium batteries, weighing 633 kgs, supply the electric motors with enough renewable energy for a 24x7 flight, up to an altitude of 8,500 metres -- less than the height of Mount Everest which stands at 8,848 metres.
The ambitious project is supported by Prince Albert of Monaco, the United Arab Emirate's Minister of State and Chairman of Masdar Sultan bin Ahmed Sultan Al Jaber, British businessman Richard Branson and former US vice president Al Gore.
The project is part of the #FutureIsClean initiative that has been launched to raise awareness about clean technologies.
It is also supported by main partners Solvay, Omega, Schindler, ABB, and Official Partners Google, Altran, Bayer Material Science, Swiss Re Corporate Solutions, Swisscom and Moet Hennessy, the official said.
The Si2 is an airborne laboratory, genuinely made from technological solutions developed by a multi-disciplinary team of 80 specialists and more than a 100 partners and consultants.
They worked for over a decade to bring Si2 from the drawing board to a flight of reality taking into consideration aspects of delicate balance between maximum efficiency, least possible weight and extreme reliability of its photovoltaic cells.
Besides an overnight stopover in Ahmedabad, Si2 is also expected to halt in Varanasi even as millions of fans worldwide follow its solar-powered flight via social media and live updates, with the founders and sponsors hoping it will change aviation history.
Its predecessor, the Si1 which flew in 2010 holds eight world records.
The Si2's Round-The-World flight took off from Abu Dhabi in UAE last week and will have stops at Muscat in Oman, Ahmedabad and Varanasi in India, Mandalay in Myanmar, Chongqing and Nanjing cities in China.
Then it will cross the Pacific Ocean via Hawaii Islands and fly across the US with stops in Phoenix city in the Midwest and New York.
From there it will cross the Atlantic Ocean and the final leg would include a stopover in southern Europe or north Africa before returning to the starting point in Abu Dhabi by late July.