Solar Impulse Pilot Put Through The Wringer

The Solar Impulse, one of the first manned, solar-powered airplanes in the world, took another important step toward its creators’ goal of a nonstop, around the globe flight. Last Friday, André Borschberg, former fighter pilot and the CEO of the airplane company, completed three days and three nights of flight simulation in Dübendorf, Switzerland. During those 72 hours the Solar Impulse team was able to test the human challenge posed by long flights and gain valuable insights for a round-the-world solar energy flight scheduled for 2014.

A month after completing its first international flight in May 2011, the Solar Impulse met with some weather-related complications and was forced to turn back halfway through a flight from Brussels to Paris. While it might be years away, the goal of accomplishing a nonstop flight around the world keeps the project’s team moving forward. If successful, Solar Impulse will blaze a new trail toward cleaner air transportation technologies.

Solar Impulse Flight Simulation

image via Solar Impulse

Strapped inside a life-size mock-up of the cockpit of the second plane, which is now under construction, Borschberg experienced all the stress and fatigue of piloting the Solar Impulse for 72 straight hours. Everything was tested and evaluated by the Solar Impulse team, from tiredness to cockpit ergonomics, nutrition, toilets, exercises to prevent DVT, vigilance, and the aptitude to pilot an aircraft under conditions of sleep deprivation.

“The simulation demonstrated that our concept of flying single-handed for several days in a row is viable, Borschberg said upon emerging from the cockpit. “The techniques of relaxation and multi-phase sleep worked very well, exceeding my expectations by far. Thanks to a careful management of the rest periods I was able to maintain optimum vigilance throughout the flight. We learnt a great deal about the practical management of life on board. Going forward, it’s all very positive and taking us ever closer to the round-the-world flight,” he added with a smile.

Beth Buczynski is a freelancer writer and editor currently living in the Rocky Mountain West. Her articles appear on Care2, Ecosalon and Inhabitat, just to name a few. So far, Beth has lived in or near three major U.S. mountain ranges, and is passionate about protecting the important ecosystems they represent. Follow Beth on Twitter as @ecosphericblog