The world’s first solar-powered, around-the-world flight arrived in Honolulu early Friday morning.
Upon landing, Solar Impulse 2 successfully completed its most challenging stretch of its journey: a nonstop flight of five days and nights from Japan to Hawaii.
The plane flew 117 hours and 52 minutes over the Pacific Ocean (a distance of 4,480 miles or 7,200 km), powered by 17,248 solar cells, fully charging its batteries each day to stay aloft at night.
Pilots André Borschberg, also co-founder of Solar Impulse, and Bertrand Piccard had to wear an oxygen mask for long stretches of time during high altitude and maximize the energy levels of the plane, particularly during turbulent weather conditions. The two take turns piloting the single-pilot aircraft for each leg of the flight.
Borschberg said one of the most challenging aspects of flight was “to find ways in effect to build up energy again, maybe to sleep, maybe to rest, or I do yoga, I do meditation.”
Borschberg said messages from the public also gave him a lift.
“We got so much support during the flight from so many people. I got messages all the time in the cockpit. It gave me so much energy,” Borschberg said. “I was afraid that the flight would stop. I was not looking for the landing. I was so well up there, up to the last minute, I tried to really enjoy it. It was absolutely fantastic.”
Honolulu is one of only four U.S. cities to host Solar Impulse 2 and Borschberg said he is excited to meet the people here. “They have been so fantastic to greet us, to organize everything, to welcome us, to provide a hangar, so that’s going to be the next step,” he said, adding that he also hoped to squeeze in a surf session.
Master navigator Nainoa Thompson of the Polynesian Voyaging Society was one of many on hand to welcome the Solar Impulse team to Hawaii.
“(Borschberg and Piccard) I would characterize maybe on one hand the top explorers of our time in the 21st century. They’re extraordinary and I know from being in voyaging, what they’re doing is dangerous. There’s no guarantees and so (I have) a lot of aloha for their courage, not so much because they fly the aircraft, but because they fly new ideas, they fly hope, they fly a commitment to our earth,” he said.
“When you know that you’re not the only ones on the earth going around the world trying to do something with what little you have, there’s an aircraft up in the air that’s doing the same thing with the same common purpose, that island earth is worth it, it strengthens us,” Thompson added. “I’ll be leaving in 13 days (to continue Malama Honua) and I’m just more committed.”
The plane began its journey from Abu Dhabi on March 8, 2015. So far, the plane has touched down in: Muscat, Oman; Ahmedabad and Varanasi, India; Mandalay, Myanmar; Chongqing and Nanjing, China; and Nagoya, Japan.
The aircraft is expected to stay in Honolulu until next week, when it heads across the continental U.S. to Phoenix, Chicago and New York City.
Borschberg broke the world records of distance and duration for solar aviation, as well as the world record for the longest solo flight ever (117 hours and 52 minutes, around 7,200 km). These world records will be ratified upon landing by the International Aeronautical Federation.
Click here to track the flight and get more information on Solar Impulse 2.