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Bertrand Piccard, Stefan Catsicas (EPFL Research Director, 2003)

Solar Impulse is 10 years old –
but since when?

Since I first had the idea following my round-the-world balloon trip in 1999? Since I met Paul McCready, the pioneer of solar flight, for the first time ? Or since the EPFL agreed to launch a feasibility study? 

Since the collaboration with André Borschberg?  The signature of the first ...

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Since I first had the idea following my round-the-world balloon trip in 1999? Since I met Paul McCready, the pioneer of solar flight, for the first time ? Or since the EPFL agreed to launch a feasibility study? 

Since the collaboration with André Borschberg?  The signature of the first partner, which enabled us to get the company off the ground? The first flight?

It’s certainly a little of all of that, but nevertheless it is the 28th of November 2003 that I would like to celebrate with you, who have followed us for so long.

That was the point of no return, the date this absolutely mad dream of going round the world in a solar aeroplane was first announced to the media. That day, André and I burned the bridges that would have still allowed us to abandon the idea, to give up. But once we had made the public announcement, we were condemned to go all the way.

It seems such a long time ago, given that Solar Impulse has accomplished so many firsts in these 10 years: the night flight, the intercontinental flight, the crossing of the USA.

Nevertheless, it was the 28th of November 2003 that was to change our lives, and those of our families, for ever.

On that day, André and I still wore a tie. We had to give that up later, in view of the risk that it would get caught up in the propellors of our aircraft…

Bertrand Piccard

André Borschberg, EPFL 2003

Bertrand Piccard, EPFL 2003

1st picture (left to right): Bertrand Piccard and Stefan Catsicas, EPFL Research Director, November 28th, 2003.

2nd picture (left to right): Bertrand Piccard, Stefan Catsicas, André Borschberg, Jan-Anders Manson, November 28th, 2003.

3rd picture: Bertrand Piccard, announcement of the round-the-world solar flight, November 28th, 2003.

Solar Impulse in words, dates and numbers

Solar Impulse in words

Solar Impulse is physically an airplane but in reality it’s more than that; it’s a messenger. Born as a vision, Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg embarked on this project to prove how pioneering spirit, blended with an informed exploitation of the latest clean technologies, ...

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Solar Impulse in words

Solar Impulse is physically an airplane but in reality it’s more than that; it’s a messenger. Born as a vision, Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg embarked on this project to prove how pioneering spirit, blended with an informed exploitation of the latest clean technologies, can help find solutions for the future. By flying day and night solely with the power of the sun, these modern-day pilots and adventurers are driven to inspire us all to think outside the box. 

Solar Impulse in dates

The goal of the project is to fly around the world with zero fuel. This challenge will be undertaken by Solar Impulse’s second generation aircraft, HB-SIB, which is currently under construction. It will be fully assembled in the spring of 2014 and will fly around the world a year later.

  • 1999: Bertrand Piccard completes the first around-the-world balloon flight with co-pilot Brian Jones. The vision of Solar Impulse is born.
  • 2003: Feasibility study at EPFL. Bertrand Piccard meets André Borschberg, leader of the study. They decide to launch Solar Impulse together.
  • 2007: The first prototype solar airplane’s design is completed. Production begins.
  • 2008: HB-SIA, technical name of the prototype, is being assembled.
  • 2009: HB-SIA is unveiled to the public.
  • 2010: World record solar flight: HB-SIA, piloted by André Borschberg, flies day and night for 26 hours.
  • 2011: The solar plane flies to Brussels and Paris. These are its first international flights
  • 2012: World’s first solar-powered intercontinental flight. Solar Impulse flies roundtrip from Payerne (Switzerland) to Rabat and Ouarzazate (Morocco) in 7 legs.
  • 2013: For its last big adventure before retirement, Solar Impulse completes the historic crossing, west to east, of the United States. Starting from San Francisco (CA) in May, HB-SIA successfully lands at New York John F. Kennedy two months later, stopping in Phoenix (AZ), Dallas (TX), St. Louis (MO), Cincinnati (OH) and Washington D.C. along the way.

Solar Impulse in numbers

This data is for HB-SIA, the first solar airplane. Data for HB-SIB will be unveiled in 2014.

Wingspan: 63,4m (208 ft.)

Length: 21,85m (71 ft.)

Height: 6,40m (20 ft.)

Power Source: 4 x 10 HP electric engines

Solar cells: 11’628

Weight: 1’600kg 3’527 lb.)

Average flying speed: 70 km/h (43 mph)

Take-off speed: 44 km/h (27 mph)

Maximum altitude: 8’500m (27’900 ft.) 

What happened in 2013? Across America

This year marked the completion a truly historic feat: the crossing of the United States, coast-to-coast from San Francisco to New York City. The challenge was done in five stopovers allowing pilots and Co- Founders, Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg to promote clean technologies and innovation to many different ...

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This year marked the completion a truly historic feat: the crossing of the United States, coast-to-coast from San Francisco to New York City. The challenge was done in five stopovers allowing pilots and Co- Founders, Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg to promote clean technologies and innovation to many different audiences. Key political, business and opinion leaders, partner and educational events as well as public days allowing were held giving the chance to share Solar Impulse’s message of pioneering spirit and the need to invest in a cleaner future.

January

January 16: Official announcement of the 2013 Across America mission.

January 23: Solar Impulse engineers begin disassembling HB-SIA.

February

February 13: Swiss Confederation reinforces its support of Solar Impulse by offering use of hangars in Dübendorf and Payerne (Switzerland) and becoming the fifth US mission partner, joining Solvay, Bayer MaterialScience, Swiss Re Corporate Solutions and SunPower.

Beginning February: HB-SIA, Solar Impulse’s first generation airplane, is fully disassembled in preparation for the 2013 Across America mission.

February 21: The solar airplane takes off from Payerne (Switzerland) in a Boeing 747 Freight on its way to San Francisco.

March

March 28: Across America mission itinerary unveiled to the public.

March 28: HB-SIA is fully reassembled at Moffett Airfield at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View (CA).

April

April 2: First technical flight on US soil. Technical flights are designed to check the solar airplane’s maneuverability and responsiveness. Pilot: Markus Scherdel.

April 18: André and Bertrand meet Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk, Google’s CEO Larry Page, PayPal’s President David Marcus and eBay’s CEO, John Donahoe.

April 20: Bertrand completes his first technical flight in the US.

April 21: André completes his first technical flight in the US.

April 24: Solar airplane flies over the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges in San Francisco. Pilot Chesley B. Sullenberger III (a.k.a. “Sully”) was present during take-off. Pilot: Bertrand Piccard. Watch the video here.

May

May 1: Final itinerary revealed: San Francisco-Phoenix-Dallas-St. Louis-Washington D.C. - New York City

May 3: Take-off from Moffett Airfield towards Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (AZ). Pilot: Bertrand Piccard.

May 3: HB-SIB's Iron Bird proceeding on schedule – testing the electric wiring and overall electronics in a mock cockpit for the second airplane – as well as structural testing of other parts.

May 4: Landing at Phoenix Sky Harbor. First leg of the Across America completed. Watch the video here.

May 8: Sir Richard Branson, Founder and Chairman of Virgin group becomes Solar Impulse’s new Patron.

May 10: End of first week of events with visits of Governor of Arizona, Mrs. Jan Brewer, Honorary Consul of Switzerland, Alisa Jost, Secretary of the State of Arizona, Ken Bennett and the Chairman of the Consular Corps of Arizona, Michael Chan.

May 15: HB-SIB's new wing spar delivered in Dübendorf (Switzerland).

May 22: Take-off from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport towards Dallas Fort Worth International Airport. Pilot: André Borschberg.

May 23: Landing at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (TX). This was the longest flight in the history of the project as well as an FAI world distance record in the solar aviation category. Watch the video here.

June

June 3: Take-off from Dallas Fort Worth International Airport towards Lambert-St. Louis International Airport (MO). Pilot: Bertrand Piccard.

June 4: Landing at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport. This was Bertrand Piccard’s longest flight and also the first time that Solar Impulse’s mobile hangar - an inflatable structure meant to protect the solar aircraft when nothing else is available – was used. Watch the video here.

June 11: HB-SIB's cockpit fairing test in a wind tunnel to see the ability to jettison the cockpit’s door during an emergency situation and to see the overall behavior of the structure with different winds.

June 14: Take-off from Lambert-St. Louis towards Washington Dulles International Airport. Pilot: André Borschberg. Due to the difficult weather conditions, a pit stop in Cincinnati (OH) was scheduled.

June 14: Landing at Cincinnati Municipal Lunken Airport (OH) for an 11-hour pit stop before proceeding to the final destination: Washington D.C. Watch the video here.

June 15: Take-off from Cincinnati Municipal Lunken Airport towards Washington Dulles International Airport. Pilot: Bertrand Piccard.

June 16: Landing at Washington Dulles International Airport. Watch the video here.

June 17: Visit and speech by the US Secretary of Energy, Ernest Moniz, during the press conference.

June 20: André and Bertrand visit the US Capitol in the presence of Representatives of Illinois, Randy Hultgren, of Arizona, David Schweikert and of Missouri, Sam Graves.

June 22: André and Bertrand visit the White House upon invitation by Dr. John P. Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

June 22: André and Bertrand receive the distinctive and symbolic Spirit Award of the Charles A. and Anne Morrow Lindbergh Foundation.

July

July 2: HB-SIB landing gear test in Dübendorf (Switzerland).

July 6: Take-off from Washington Dulles to New York John F. Kennedy International Airport. Pilot: André Borschberg.

July 7: Early landing at New York JFK due to a tear in the fabric on the underside of HB-SIA's left wing. André Borschberg skillfully landed the plane bringing both himself and the solar plane safely on the ground.

July 9: André and Bertrand invited to ring the NASDAQ opening bell.

July 9: André and Bertrand invited by UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, to the UN’s Economic and Social Council.

August

August 5: HB-SIA, the solar airplane that completed the epic crossing across America, was repatriated in the belly of a Boeing 747-8 (aka Jumbo Jet) powered by Cargolux. This marks the end of the 2013 Across America mission. 


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