Solar flight pilot: Pacific leg is “most challenging” ever attempted

Beijing (dpa) – Andre Borschberg is attempting to break the record for the longest solo plane flight in history – and he plans to do so in a plane that runs entirely on sunlight.

The 62-year-old former Swiss air force pilot will battle fatigue, extreme temperatures and difficult weather conditions to make the 6-day journey across the Pacific Ocean from Nanjing in eastern China to Hawaii.

Borschberg and his partner Bertrand Piccard are taking turns flying around the world aboard the Solar Impulse 2, which took off in Abu Dhabi on March 9.

dpa: What are some risks and challenges of crossing the Pacific Ocean in a solar-powered plane?

Borschberg: We need to fly nonstop using the sun as the only source of energy, collecting energy throughout the day to fly through the night. The Pacific sometimes has difficult weather so it’s a challenge to find the right conditions to get enough energy. We have no way to stop in between so that’s the challenge.

dpa: What kind of emergency plans do you have?

Borschberg: We have a very professional mission control centre based in Monaco. Engineers and others are there checking the weather forecast constantly to analyze and modify the route if needed.

The airplane design is sophisticated and quite redundant. If there is failure in one element, another element can make up for it. But if everything goes against me I can still jump out with a parachute, life raft and other supplies. My partner and I trained with the German navy on how to parachute out of a plane and survive in that situation.

dpa: During the flight you will only be able to sleep briefly for 20 minutes at a time. How will you fight fatigue?

Borschberg: The plane’s cockpit is not big enough for me to stand up in but I can lay down and exercise. We had trained in yoga techniques to stimulate the body and mind and fight fatigue.

dpa: Are there other physical challenges of flying in the Solar Impulse 2?

Borschberg: It gets both hot and very cold. As the plane climb higher the outside temperature is around minus 40 and it’s minus 20 degrees inside. We don’t want to waste energy to heat up the cockpit so I use clothes and insulation technology to protect myself. But as the plane flies lower it feels like a warm summer day so I have to change regularly from thick clothes to thin clothes.

By far this flight over the Pacific is the most challenging flight I’ve attempted so far. But it’s also an opportunity to explore the inner self – to see how I am when it is a stressful situation, when I’m tired and hot and exhausted.

dpa: What is the goal of this project?

Borschberg: Our goal is to demonstrate the possibility of green technology. If it is possible to do it in an aircraft then we can certainly do it on the ground. We want to inspire everyone to try to solve the problem that we are depleting our planet by using more energy resources than the earth is able to provide.

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