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BOY, ARE MY ARMS TIRED

Photos: Solar Impulse II has completed the first solar-powered flight around the world

By Leslie Josephs

A solar-powered airplane has circled the globe for the first time, without using any fuel.

The Solar Impulse 2 landed in Abu Dhabi Tuesday (July 26), more than 16 months after it first took off. It was not a nonstop flight.

Jean Revillard
Test flight in 2014. Courtesy Solar Impulse.

The plane’s 17-leg journey began March 9, 2015, as an initiative to boost the visibility of clean energy.

Jean Revillard
After landing in Varanasi, India in March 2015. Courtesy Solar Impulse.

In the course of their journey, Swiss pilots Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg completed more than 500 flight hours.

Bertrand Piccard
Tight quarters in a test flight in April 2016. Courtesy Solar Impulse.

It was a mission of firsts. On the longest stretch, the Solar Impulse 2 was flown for five days straight over the Pacific Ocean from Japan to Hawaii, a record distance and time in flight – close to 118 hours – for a piloted-solar powered plane. They also became the first to fly across the Atlantic Ocean in a solar-powered plane.

The trip was not without hiccups, though. Solar Impulse 2 was delayed for repairs in Hawaii after the plane’s batteries were damaged en route.

Olga Stefatou
Second leg from Muscat, Oman in March 2015. Courtesy Solar Impulse.

The plane has wingspan of 236 feet, similar to that of a Boeing 747 jet, with a cabin built to accommodate just the two pilots. Its long wings are designed to capture the sun’s energy, and come equipped with 17,248 solar cells. These power four batteries, which then power the plane’s propellers through both day and night.

Jean Revillard
Takeoff from Hawaii to California in April 2016. Courtesy Solar Impulse.

Piccard and Borschberg said they wanted to show what could be accomplished without jet fuel, a source of carbon emissions.

Views from sunny Spain in July 2016. Courtesy Solar Impulse.

“I’m sure that within 10 years we’ll see electric airplanes transporting 50 passengers on short to medium haul flights,” said Piccard after completing the trip.

View over Egypt’s pyramids. Courtesy Solar Impulse.

But solar power may be a tough sell for commercial carriers in the near-term, as they’re enjoying historically low fuel prices these days.

Landing, Abu Dhabi, July 26. Courtesy Solar Impulse.

That didn’t stop them from trying.

Courtesy of Solar Impulse
Success. Courtesy Solar Impulse