The Solar Impulse HB-SIA concept airplane has cleared another hurdle and successfully completed a flight from Rabat-Salé International Airport outside Rabat, Morocco, to Ouarzazate. This was the most challenging flight to date for the test mission in preparation for a round-the-world flight scheduled to take place in 2014, according to the Swiss company.
At an average altitude of 16,405 feet, the 369-nautical-mile flight took 17 hours and 20 minutes to complete using strictly solar power. “Striving for the impossible is the DNA of our team,” said Bertrand Piccard, the initiator and chairman of Solar Impulse.
It may seem that a desert overflight would be easy for a solar powered airplane, but winds and thunderstorms can present a major challenge. The initial attempt of the flight forced CEO and co-founder of Solar Impulse André Borschberg to return to Rabat due to unfavorable weather conditions. “When the headwind is faster than the speed of the aircraft, and when we are pushed back at an altitude of 8,000 meters (26,250 feet), we risk to quickly losing all references,” said Borschberg. “That is the moment when we need to decide to stop.”
But failure is not an option for this team and a few days later Borschberg climbed back into HB-SIA and successfully completed the journey. The ultimate mission of Solar Impulse is a two-seat version of the airplane capable of flying non-stop around the world. In the interim, the next version of the airplane, HB-SIB, which will be developed next year using data collected from HB-SIA’s flights, will be used for the 2014 round-the-world flight.