Nothing captures America’s imagination quite like the Golden Age of Flight. Well, whether you are a kid of someone looking for the best places to retire, it looks like a second Golden Age may be upon us, thanks to an aircraft known as Solar Impulse 2.
Think about it: People would crowd their radios or flock to air strips to catch a glimpse of Amelia Earhart or Charles Lindbergh, because there was something wild and exciting in what they did. They were pioneers, daredevils even, and they lit up America with inspiration and admiration.
Solar Impulse 2 continues this tradition in a grand fashion. This airplane, piloted by André Borscherg and Bertrand Piccard, is currently working on circumnavigating the globe. But here’s the exciting part: Solar Impulse 2 does not use a single drop of fuel. Instead, it is powered by the sun.
The plane has more than 17,000 solar cells which absorb rays and turn them into usable energy. This energy is then sent to the four lithium ion batteries on board, where it is either used to power the plane or stored for nighttime flying. The plane is also about the size of a 747, but weighs about the same as a car—meaning it’s the largest aircraft ever built with such a small weight.
And that’s not the first record broken by Solar Impulse 2. Solar planes have existed before it, but in 2015, pilot Borschberg broke both the record for longest distance and duration for a nonstop solar-powered flight, but also the record for longest solo flight without refueling, which lasted about five days from Japan to Hawaii.
The journey so far for the plane has consisted of 10 legs. It began in Abu Dhabi on March 9th, 2015. From there, it traveled to Oman, then two cities in India, then Myanmar, then two cities in China, then Japan, and finally to the U.S., where it is currently. So far, it has hit Honolulu, Hawaii; San Francisco, California; and now, it’s resting in Phoenix, Arizona. The next stop is somewhere in the Midwest, although no announcement has been made as to where just yet.
From the Midwest stop or stops, it will fly to New York City, and then onto Europe, before finally making it back to the place where it all began, Abu Dhabi.
The goal of Solar Impulse 2, much like some of the Golden Age flying, is to inspire people about the future by showing them what can be achieved using their technology. They hope to show the world that solar power is a viable option for clean energy—and they’ve made some huge steps in regards to that goal outside of the around-the-world trip. Just last month, pilot Piccard actually video-conferenced with the United Nations on the day they were signing the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
“You know, Mr. Secretary-General [Ban Ki-moon], what you are doing today in New York by signing the Paris Agreement is more than protecting the environment – it is the launch of the clean revolution,” Piccard said, according to redOrbit. “If an airplane like Solar Impulse 2 can fly day and night without fuel, the world can be much cleaner.”