Solar Impulse In Europe After ‘Stimulating’ Flight

When last we checked in on Solar Impulse, the daring project’s plane, the HB-SIA, had completed a historic journey from Europe to Africa.

Now it’s back – after quite the interesting flight, one that, as the project blog put it, had “a number of stimulating events that have kept all of us on our toes.”

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Landing in Madrid (image via Solar Impulse)

Pilot Bertrand Piccard flew for 18 hours and 3 minutes from Rabat, Morocco, to Madrid, a distance of 898 kilometers, at an average altitude of 4,879 meters. He also encountered some pretty wild winds in the craft, which is no small matter since it weighs just 3,500 pounds despite having a wingspan as wide as an Airbus A340 (208 feet).

At one point along the way, the HB-SIA was rocketing along at 157 kilometers per hour, aided by a strong tailwind, the project team said. At another point in the journey the plane was actually going backward at 18 km/h.

This was extreme, but not completely surprising. Before the flight, the team knew it would face challenging conditions.

“We’ve never had so much crosswinds and Bertrand will have to fly with the aircraft’s nose pointing in a completely different direction than the airplane’s heading,” the project blogged. “It will certainly be a strange and curious feeling and I look forward to getting his feedback about the flight as we continue boosting our learning curve about the prototype and solar-powered flights together.”

According to EV World, strong crosswinds over the Iberian Peninsula forced Picard to find a holding area aloft, west of Seville, “where he waited for the right moment to continue his journey toward Toledo.”

“Bertrand did a wonderful flight and the aircraft’s technology has once again proven its reliability and its energy savings efficiency,” said André Borschberg, the project’s cofounder and CEO. “This flight has taught us even more about the aircraft allowing us to fly through winds superior to the speed of the airplane.”

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.