Solar Impulse – Around the world in a solar-powered aircraft

Article, 06.06.2015

Solar Impulse has brought the dream of flying over long distances without the need for fossil fuel a step closer to reality.

Solar Impulse / Anna Pizzolante / REZO.ch

Swiss aviation pioneers Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg have started their expedition to become the first human beings to fly around the world in a solar-powered aircraft (HB-SIB). They intend to use this unique adventure to show that with a clear vision we can go beyond what is currently possible, and to campaign for a more sustainable use of resources. This approach is in line with Switzerland’s commitment to using increasingly clean energy, which is why the Confederation has supported the project since it began.

Round-the-world solar-powered flight

Solar Impulse took off from Abu Dhabi and will circumnavigate the globe in several legs with landings in Oman, India, Myanmar and China. The plane will then cross the Pacific Ocean (with only one pilot for five consecutive days and nights!), with a stopover in the United States, and eventually cross the Atlantic Ocean (four consecutive days and nights) towards Southern Europe and North Africa, and fly back to the first point of departure. Since the cockpit is designed for only one pilot, landings will be made to change pilots, and also to organise public events to present the project to government and scientific institutions.

Switzerland’s spirit of innovation and public-private partnerships

The solar-powered aircraft Solar Impulse was designed to remain airborne day and night without using a drop of fuel. The plane’s exceptional aerodynamic performance and energy efficiency (three times greater than levels for commercial aircraft) make this possible. A team of technicians and scientists from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL), led by the aeronautical engineer Borschberg and the psychiatrist Piccard from the canton of Vaud, worked together on this trailblazing project. It should come as no surprise that innovative projects like this one originate in Switzerland, when you consider the country’s long-standing tradition of encouraging investment in the research and development of innovative products. Did you know, for example, that instant coffee, zip fasteners, Velcro, milk chocolate and the computer mouse were invented in Switzerland?
Switzerland's high innovation capability has also been recognised in various international rankings in this area (e.g. Global Competitiveness Report and Global Innovation Index), where Switzerland ranked at the top several times in recent years. Innovative projects thrive in the fertile environment of Switzerland's education system (see Times Higher Education Ranking) and its long tradition of cooperation between the public and private sectors. This cooperation is reflected at various levels.

A more sustainable use of resources

As a geographically small landlocked country in Europe, poor in natural resources, Switzerland has always had to use resources economically and efficiently. In addition, as Europe’s water tower, Switzerland is responsible for various sources of large rivers, and therefore manages (water) resources with great care. In this regard, the country is contending, in particular, with the progressive melting of its glaciers, which is one of the negative consequences of climate change. Switzerland is constantly aware of these negative effects and is responding by developing the sustainable use of resources and climate-friendly energy production.

Small in size, but hugely successful in terms of innovation achievements, Switzerland is continuously working with its partners to make the world a better place to live – Solar Impulse is a perfect example of Switzerland’s philosophy.