How does one prepare for a 20-hour flight in a solar airplane?

Flying a solar airplane is no easy task especially when one considers the size of the cockpit, which amounts to a meager 46 ft³ (1,3 m³)! Today’s Phoenix to Dallas flight, which will last approximately 18 hours, will also allow André to beat his previously established absolute distance world record in the solar ...

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Flying a solar airplane is no easy task especially when one considers the size of the cockpit, which amounts to a meager 46 ft³ (1,3 m³)! Today’s Phoenix to Dallas flight, which will last approximately 18 hours, will also allow André to beat his previously established absolute distance world record in the solar airplane category, achieved in 2012 during the flight from Payerne (Switzerland) to Madrid (Spain). The current flight will total 868 miles (1396.8 km).

But how does André stay focused and awake now that he’s only half way? Apart from being in great physical condition, the pilots also have to prove an extraordinary level of concentration and mental strength necessary to maneuver the unique and extremely lightweight solar aircraft during such long legs. In a cockpit devoid of an autopilot and dependent on the Mission Control Center (MCC) for flight route updates, André and Bertrand have to maintain a heightened level of focus throughout each flight.

The only way André could feel anxious before a flight is if he considered himself insufficiently prepared. Aware of this, every aspect of the flight is analyzed to the smallest detail. For example, the day before getting in the cockpit he closes his eyes and visualizes the first hours of the flight from take-off onward. He imagines all possible developments with different “what if” scenarios, even emergency ones, until he feels comfortable with the indications the Flight Director and his team have briefed him on that day. A final, shorter briefing is always given early in the morning the day of the flight to update the pilot on any potential changes.

André actively engages in Yoga, respiratory exercises and meditation. Yoga keeps his muscles flexible and comes in handy in the cockpit to maintain blood circulation. He regularly controls his breathing for many different reasons. For example, when he’s feeling a little tired he will start breathing faster to increase his energy level – an exercise he likes to do the day before a flight. But he will also control his breathing to relax. He does this by inhaling seven times and exhaling seven times bringing his heartbeat to a regular rhythm and allowing him to relax during calmer moments in the air. Finally, meditation is particularly handy the day before a flight, just before going to bed, to clear his mind from unnecessary thoughts ensuring a deep and restful sleep.

The Borschberg family is known to be fond of good food which explains why André doesn’t particularly like the few days preceding a flight. Don’t get me wrong, he’s ecstatic to know he’ll be soon in the cockpit again! The only downside is that he’s required to pay attention to his diet by completely cutting out aliments rich in fiber, like fruits and vegetables (see Brian’s funny video here to understand why). Even during the flight, André only brings snacks like cereal bars, nuts, dried fruits and maybe a sandwich, accompanied by water or a sports beverage.

With a growling stomach at the time of landing, transforming more into a lion’s roar during the ensuing press conference, it’s not surprising that André likes to indulge in a hearty meal – don’t forget to bring out those veggies!

A blessed take off

Solar Impulse has gracefully lifted off of Arizona’s soil at 04:47AM MST (UTC-7) on its way to Dallas Fort Worth International Airport. Landing is expected to occur tomorrow, Thursday May 23nd around 01:00 AM CDT (UTC-5).

Piloted by André, the solar airplane will be attempting to break the world distance ...

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Solar Impulse has gracefully lifted off of Arizona’s soil at 04:47AM MST (UTC-7) on its way to Dallas Fort Worth International Airport. Landing is expected to occur tomorrow, Thursday May 23nd around 01:00 AM CDT (UTC-5).

Piloted by André, the solar airplane will be attempting to break the world distance record in the solar airplane category, a record previously achieved by the same couple – Solar Impulse and André – when connecting Payerne (Switzerland) to Madrid (Spain) in 2012. The total estimated distance is 868 miles (1396.8 km). The third leg of the Across America mission, Dallas (TX) to St. Louis (MI), will be piloted by Bertrand.

What made today’s departure so unique was the presence of a Native American Medicine Man, Delmar Boni, of the San Carlos Apache Tribe. Dressed in traditional clothing with a beautiful crown of feathers partially covering his face, Delmar circled around the pilots, thumb painted yellow, while chanting a pleasant tune.  

He blessed today’s pilot, André, and the wings that will carry him on his journey to Texas. He also blessed his partner and project co-founder, Bertrand. There was something very soothing and mystical about this ritual. The tone of Delmar’s voice and the comforting flow of words he murmured, although incomprehensible to our ears, couldn’t be mistaken for anything other than a powerful blessing.

Today’s flight will be challenging because of the length - the longest distance ever flown by this aircraft - but it’s off to a good start: accompanied by America’s history and Native traditions, Solar Impulse is on its way to explore the future.  


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