Flying Solar

Flying Solar


Published in the summer 2011 issue of MyLIFE magazine

The night prior to being asked to write this article, I found myself high in the Sierra Nevadas, gazing up at the endless sky of northern California. With little more than the grass folding underneath me, I watched as millions of stars stared gently back at me. In my complete state of bliss, the unmistakable blinking lights of an airplane far off in the distance caught my eye. It looked as though it were at one with the stars: free and shining proudly. What are they doing? Where are they going?

What if the next “night-sky” plane you or I see is actually the first of its kind: the world’s first and only solar plane that can fly by night on its way to a new world record of flying around the world? In case you weren’t paying attention, I said solar, as in no fuel. No carbon emissions. No emissions period. Healthier planet. Did I mention, no fuel? Just in case you’ve been living under a rock, our dependency on fuel is becoming more and more expensive. How many of us are truly making an effort to cut down on fossil fuels? How many of us think Earth before we think easy?

When Bertrand Piccard came up with the idea of the HB-SIA prototype, he wasn’t trying to personally benefit, but rather to prove a point to the world. Why can’t we figure out ways to use renewable energies on a regular basis? Perhaps a better question than “Why can’t we?” is “Why aren’t we?”

Piccard is smart, adventurous and family- and community-oriented. He loves humanity and is willing to go to the ends of the earth to help. Born in Switzerland, Piccard uses his medical degree to specialize in adult and child psychiatry and psychotherapy, is the father of three children and is chairman of Solar Impulse—the company he founded to make his dream of influencing mankind come to life. What exactly did Piccard have in mind when he began this new journey? He wants us to look at our everyday lives and find a way to reduce our use of nonrenewable energy as much as possible.

André Borschberg (left) and Bertrand Piccard are the founders of Solar Impulse—the company behind the HB-SIA prototype airplane.

While Piccard has helped put the HB-SIA project in motion, André Borschberg has one job in particular that is paramount to its success: flying the plane. As chief executive officer and co-founder of Solar Impulse, the Swiss native’s credentials are impressive. Having earned a master’s degree in management science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, served five years as a consultant at one of the world’s leading business consultancies and undertaken multiple entrepreneurial projects and investments, Borschberg is no novice. Add to all of that his training as a pilot in the Swiss army and the fact that he is also a father of three, and Borschberg is indeed a compelling individual. Anyone able to fly the HB-SIA prototype for a duration of 26 hours, 10 minutes and 19 seconds would have to be.

The plane is not your typically shaped plane; in fact, in many ways it has a similar appearance to the Wright brothers’ 1903 Flyer. With a wingspan of approximately 208 feet, the plane stands at a height of about 20 feet and is roughly 71 feet long. The HB-SIA prototype is beautiful; anything that can save energy, refrain from using fossil fuels and still fully function at night is a beautiful thing. The wings are covered in solar panels from tip to tip. This aircraft was not meant to be a passenger plane; the goal was to inspire others, not to solve all of our fossil fuel problems. The HB-SIA prototype—while still a work in progress—has inspired the “take-off” of ideas and concepts around the world.

Remember again the dream of a world of little pollution. Piccard and Borschberg’s Solar Impulse celebrates the fearless pursuit of genius that promises to ultimately guide us toward such a possibility. Their pioneering endeavors serve as models for the rest of us. The sky truly is the limit. These visionaries are giving a whole new meaning to the phrase, “Happy travels!”


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