Solar Impulse 2 lands in Varanasi

Varanasi/Ahmedabad: The Solar Impulse (Si2) aircraft, powered solely by the sun, landed in Varanasi on Wednesday night on the next leg of its global flight, an official said.

Taking off at 7.18 a.m. from Ahmedabad’s Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport in bright sunshine, the Si2 covered the 1,128 km flight to Varanasi’s Lal Bahadur Shastri Airport in over 13 hours, landing there around 8.40 p.m.

The zero-fuel airplane, which landed in Ahmedabad on March 10 around midnight and was stationed for six days, maintained a minimum altitude of around 5,200 metres on its flight to the Hindu holy city in Uttar Pradesh.

Earlier the airplane had a scheduled four-day stopover in Gujarat, but the onward flight was delayed on account of the inclement weather conditions due to western disturbances.

After an overnight halt in Varanasi, the Si2 will have completed around 15 percent of its global flight and fly on its onward trip to Mandalay in Myanmar on Thursday.

Acknowledging the role of the ancient science of Yoga, which originated in India more than 5,000 years ago, former Swiss fighter pilot Andre Borschberg said he practices it while flying the Si2.

During the Ahmedabad sojourn, besides ‘refuelling’ the aircraft, the pilots were given a Gujarati cultural treat comprising ‘garba-dandiya’ dances and other sights of the west Indian state from where Prime Minister Narendra Modi hails.

The Si2 has been built not just to fly around the world without a drop of fuel, but also demonstrate the effectiveness of clean technologies and the importance of sustainability.

The aircraft took off from Muscat on March 9 and flew over Pakistan before it entered Indian airspace over the Arabian Sea towards Gujarat, said an official of the Aditya Birla Group, which hosted the flight in Ahmedabad.

“It flew at a speed of around 60 km per hour – roughly equivalent to a scooter – under different weather conditions,” 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’s controls.

The revolutionary single-seater aircraft is made of carbon fibre, with a 72 metre wingspan that is larger than a Boeing 747 but weighing 2,300 kg, or as much as a family car.

Its 17,248 solar cells and four lithium batteries, weighing 633 kg, supply the electric motors with enough renewable energy for a 24×7 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.

As millions of fans worldwide follow its solar-powered flight via social media and live updates, the founders and sponsors hope 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. After halts in Oman and India, it will fly to Myanmar, and Chongqing and Nanjing 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.