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Gibraltar Crossing

This is a historical moment for the Solar Impulse team and for solar aviation. Bertrand Piccard just crossed the Strait of Gibraltar, the passage separating Europe from Africa, in the cockpit of the HB-SIA. He crossed around 16:00 (UTC+2) and is now heading straight into the direction of Tangier at an altitude of approximately 7’000m.

Elâ had a quick talk with Bertrand: “The scenery is just incredible, I see clouds on one side which reminds me of the « Aletsch Glacier » and the Atlantic see on the other side.” Photos will be available when Bertrand comes back on earth!

Most of you might think that flying towards warmer and sunnier climates is ideal for the solar aircraft. Yet, there are other meteorological aspects that need to be taken into consideration in these regions. The summer solstice is approaching (21 June), and with it, the intensity of direct sunlight. The heating of the ground results in an increase in vertical winds, better known as turbulence, which can destabilize the aircraft or, worse, disengage it.

For this reason the team of meteorologists, modeling and simulation specialists are key to the smooth progress of the flight. Aside from obvious and visible climate obstacles like fog and rain, the most important data that needs to be analyzed for a given flight are the:

  • Take-off and landing conditions. Crosswinds and headwinds must not exceed 5 knots and 7 knots respectively. 
  • Reliability of meteorological data
  • Surface conditions (thermal inversion and low level jets, i.e. strong winds at less than 400m)
  • Conditions of altitude (change in winds at each altitude profile)

This flight is faced with very favorable weather conditions; there are no storms in sight and turbulence is at a minimum throughout the flight. Nevertheless, the meteorologists have to prepare detailed weather predictions for two alternate airports along the way, in this case Seville (Spain) and Tangier (Morocco).

The final challenge for this flight will be faced at the time of landing. The wind situation will improve during the evening while the Meteorological Team and the Mission Control Center work closely with the pilot to find the perfect approach and landing window. 

This is a historical moment for the Solar Impulse team and for solar aviation. Bertrand Piccard just crossed the Strait of Gibraltar, the passage separating Europe from Africa, in the cockpit of the HB-SIA. He crossed around 16:00 (UTC+2) and is now heading straight into the direction of Tangier at an altitude of approximately ...



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