Solar Impulse Pilot Reveals Next Steps

André Borschberg discusses the future of Solar Impulse.

Solar Impulse Andre Borschberg Speech
André BorschbergBill Doster

André Borschberg — the pilot who broke the record for longest unrefueled solo flight — recalled the experience of flying the Si2 over the Pacific and discussed the future of Solar Impulse during his keynote speech at the Polyurethanes Technical Conference in Orlando, Florida, on Monday. On the horizon: a wrap on the round-the-world trip of the Si2, an unmanned version of the aircraft and a possible collaboration with Google.

The Si2, which Borschberg flew from Japan to Hawaii, is the only manned solar aircraft that can fly day and night without fuel. The Si2 has been grounded in Hawaii since July, after its batteries sustained damaged from overheating. At the conference Monday, Borschberg said it's difficult to know at this time what the true limitations are on the batteries, but each of them is being replaced. He noted throughout his presentation that the Solar Impulse team has faced many challenges, but each has improved their project in the long-term.

To Borschberg, each obstacle is a simple reminder to approach the problem in a different way. This innovative spirit is the driving force that pressed his team to develop a new paradigm in aviation, and sustained him through 5 days and nights of flying over the Pacific with a faulty autopilot system. Throughout the trip, he turned his unfavorable conditions around with this mindset — focusing on breathing and remaining in the present moment to savor every minute of his flight.

"I started to be in the world I'd been dreaming about when I was a child," he said.

Borschberg will be back in the cozy, polyurethane cockpit of the Si2 soon, as the craft is scheduled to depart from Hawaii in April 2016. Once it flies to the West coast of the United States, the craft is scheduled to soar over the mainland in May, and then depart from JFK for its trans-Atlantic trip to Europe. From Europe, the Si2 will return to the point of its initial departure in Abu Dhabi. Cruising at the energy-saving speed of 25 knots, it's sure to be a slow journey, but Borschberg says the round-the-world trip will be complete in July.

In other news, Borschberg says Solar Impulse and Google are engaging in ongoing discussions that could manifest in educational initiatives to inspire young innovators. While Google is not officially affiliated with Solar Impulse, Borschberg says the company has helped them with marketing and even featured a link to the Solar Impulse website below the Google search bar for a day.

Also in the works is the next generation of Solar Impulse's aircraft. Borschberg says the company is developing an unmanned version that can fly nonstop at high altitudes for six months, providing a sustainable alternative to satellites — perhaps even making them obsolete.

While it seems like a tremendous undertaking, Borschberg says Solar Impulse approaches this and every other project with the same mindset.

"Very often we find big obstacles, but very often those big obstacles lead us to find a better way."