Solar trek: Rare access to globe circling experimental plane Solar Impulse 2

Insight

Solar Impulse 2 Hawaii, USA, April 9th 2016: Bertrand Piccard doing a selfie during his last training flight in Hawaii before the round-the-flight resumes.

It’s circling the globe-using only the power of the sun. The experimental plane, Solar Impulse 2, has now crossed from Asia to North America without a drop of fuel. CCTV’s Jessica Stone caught up with its pilot to find out how his invention is changing the conversation about what solar can power.

Solar trek: experimental plane continues its journey around the globe

It's circling the globe-using only the power of the sun. The experimental plane, Solar Impulse 2, has now crossed from Asia to North America without a drop of fuel. CCTV's Jessica Stone caught up with its pilot to find out how his invention is changing the conversation about what solar can power.

CCTV’s Jessica Stone gets a rare private tour of record-breaking solar plane, Solar Impulse 2

Behind the scenes with the Solar Impulse 2

It's circling the globe-using only the power of the sun. The experimental plane, Solar Impulse 2, has now crossed from Asia to North America without a drop of fuel. CCTV's Jessica Stone got a special tour from Elke Neumann to find out how his invention is changing the conversation about what solar can power.

With a wingspan as big as a jumbo jet, but the weight of a sport utility vehicle, Solar Impulse 2 is an aircraft like no other.

Solar Impulse has no fuel. It flies only with the sun and is the beginning of something new. According to its pilot, Bertrand Piccard, it’s a door slightly open to the future, pushing the technologies to the extreme.

It took 14 years for Bertrand Piccard, a Swiss medical doctor and explorer, to help design this plane and now pilot it. A journey that began in Abu Dhabi in March 2015 has taken him and his co-pilot, Andre Borschberg, from the Arabian Peninsula, through Myanmar, to China, where it remained for two months.

Solar Impulse websiteVisit the Solar Impulse website for live video, photo, and blog updates from this journey. 

After an emergency stop in Japan, and a winter-layover in Hawaii to replace the batteries, Piccard spent three straight days and nights in this cockpit to cross the Pacific Ocean from Hawaii to California, arriving in late April. For longer stretches in the air, everything was planned for.

“There is a toilet under the seat. You just remove the cushion and you move the toilet,” Piccard said. “You have the food. You cook warm meals, brush your teeth. You can sleep. You can do everything in that plane. It’s a little flat!”

Piccard and Picard - The fictional captain on Star Trek was named for Bertrand's grand-uncle, a balloonist who also circumnavigated the globe.

Piccard and Picard – The fictional captain on Star Trek was named for Bertrand’s grand-uncle, a balloonist who also circumnavigated the globe.

Piccard flies with a doll of Captain Jean Luc Piccard from the popular TV series, Star Trek: The Next Generation. The TV character was named for Bertrand’s grand-uncle, Jean Felix, who designed the first high-altitude balloon. Bertrand Piccard says heights don’t scare him, but something else does.

“What really frightens me is to live in a world that burns one million tons of oil every hour,” Piccard said.

During his journey, he addressed the UN where leaders from more than 175 countries signed the 2015 Paris climate accord.

The plane is now on the eleventh stage of its voyage-heading east across the U.S. to New York, before crossing the Atlantic.

Solar Impulse 2 flying over Hawaii towards San Francisco

Solar Impulse 2 flying over Hawaii towards San Francisco

It’ll be more than year before Solar Impulse 2 completes its journey. Battery problems and bad weather have caused delays and the plane flies at less than 90 kilometers per hour-a fraction of the speeds Piccard’s balloon reached when he became the first person to circle the earth in one, non-stop.

“It’s not about speed. It’s really about slow and steady,” Elke Neumann, a spokesman for Solar Impulse 2 said. “It will arrive… when it arrives.”

Solar Impulse is due to arrive back in Abu Dhabi this July.