Solar Plane Nears Goal of Circling Globe as Atlantic Leg Begins

  • Solar Impulse takes off from New York, headed to Seville
  • Pilots are finishing last legs of round-the-world journey

A solar plane took a further step toward circling the globe as Swiss pilot Bertrand Piccard began a trip across the Atlantic Ocean that’s expected to take about four days.

Piccard, the 58-year-old adventurer who made the first trip in a hot-air balloon around the globe, took off at about 2:30 a.m. from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, heading for Seville. Prince Albert gave the final go-ahead from the project’s control center, which is located in Monaco.
“It’s the moment to go,” Piccard said before departing. “Thanks to all of you and see you on the other side.”

The Solar Impulse project is getting closer to completing a world tour in an ultralight one-man aircraft intended to show how technology might provide solutions to combat global warming. Piccard has been taking turns at the controls with Andre Borschberg, a 63-year-old former Swiss air force pilot, as they circumnavigate the globe without using any fuel. 

The plane can take off in the dark using solar energy stored in batteries.

The Solar Impulse2 aircraft.

Photographer: Jean Revillard/Solar Impulse 2/GNR via Getty Images

Typically Piccard only sleeps 10 20-minute naps every 24 hours on such trips, sustaining himself the rest of the time with breaks during which he puts the plane on auto-pilot and hypnotizes himself.

A flight controller instructed Piccard not to engage in “sight-seeing” or take any detours to avoid lengthening the 6,000-kilometer (3,700-mile) trip, which may take about 90 to 110 hours. Minutes into the flight, the pilot asked if he could fly near the Statue of Liberty, and he was told no.