The solar impulse: the first successful solar flight around the world

Explorer and balloonist Bertrand Piccard is behind the ground-breaking aircraft

Balloonist Bertrand Piccard has crafted a career from floating around the world in a giant hot air balloon. But following a round-the-world expedition in The Breitling Orbiter 3, which burned 3.7 tons of fuel, the explorer realised his was not the most environmentally-friendly of callings. His solution? The Solar Impulse, a solar-powered, long-range aircraft that has a wingspan larger than a Boeing 747 yet the weight of a Range Rover – the first prototype of which was unveiled in 2003.

Piccard and Borschberg

The plane’s second iteration was tested in 2015, with a 16-month flight that took off from Abu Dhabi and stopped over in India, Myanmar, China, Japan, Hawaii, California and Phoenix. Equipped with 17,248 solar cells on its wings, fuselage and tail, the plane was charged with four lithium batteries that drive its propellers, and was the first solar-powered plane capable of flying through the night.

Having caught the world’s attention, Piccard launched the World Alliance for Efficient Solutions shortly after, which unites the key players developing and financing products, services and businesses intended to protect the environment. The explorer has pledged to travel the world again in 2024 – but this time with a portfolio of sustainable solutions to inspire us all.