Solar Impulse 2 has become the first sun-powered, fuel-free aircraft to circle the globe. Pilot Bertrand Piccard was at the controls as the aircraft returned to Abu Dhabi after completing a 42,000 kilometer journey.
Swiss adventurer and project director Bertrand Piccard was in the cockpit of Solar Impulse 2 as the aircraft landed at Al-Bateen Executive Airport in Abu Dhabi early on Tuesday morning. The airplane had begun its record-breaking series of flights there last year.
Earlier, Piccard crossed the meridian point where Andre Borscherg took off last year:
The aircraft entered UAE airspace at around 1:30 am local time on Tuesday:
The record-breaking series of flights had begun on March 9 2015. Solar Impulse 2 has averaged a speed of 80 kilometers (50 miles) an hour without using a drop of fuel.
The aircraft took off on its final leg from Cairo on Sunday and during the flight, UN Secretary General Ban-Ki moon told Piccard in a live-streamed conversation: "My deepest admiration and respect for your courage," and added: "This is a historic day not only for you but for humanity."
Piccard and his compatriot Andre Borschberg took turns to fly the solo-seater plane on the stages of the flight across Asia, North America, Europe and North Africa.
Throughout the voyage the pilots have been in constant contact with the project's mission control in Monaco as experts for weather, mathematics and engineers have monitored the route and conditions for the pilots who have had to withstand temperatures as low as minus 20 degrees Celsius and as high as 35 degrees Celsius.
The weight of a car with the wingspan of a Boeing 747, the four-engine battery-powered aircraft relies on 17,000 solar cells embedded in its broad wings. Its light weight makes it particularly sensitive to turbulence.
Borschberg was at the controls as Solar Impulse 2 broke the record for the longest uninterrupted journey in aviation history of 8,924 kilometers (5,500 miles) between Nagoya, Japan and Hawaii. The journey took 118 hours.
Piccard has said he launched the project in 2003 to show that renewable energy "can achieve the impossible."
The pilots and their support team intend to continue working on solar-powered aircraft in the future. "We have new insulation material, new LED lamps, we have new extremely light carbon fibre structures... All this can be used now on the ground," dividing "by two the energy consumption and therefore the CO2 emissions of the world", Piccard said. "It's a complete revolution in the protection of the environment."
jm/kl (Reuters, AFP)