When the HB-SIA lifts itself off the ground, what remains impressed in people’s minds is the image of men on bikes chasing the aircraft. These athletes are part of the Solar Impulse Ground Crew whose role is to ensure the proper functioning of the pilot's equipment, handling of the plane and, when it’s on the ground, safeguarding operational efficiency and safety for take-off and landings.
This team has an intimate relationship with the experimental aircraft as they are the rare people allowed to handle it. It was a difficult honor to obtain as it’s no easy task to gain the trust of the engineers who put their love and sweat into the construction of the aircraft.
The Ground Crew is a team of enthusiasts of all ages and backgrounds (including a musician, an entrepreneur and a carpenter amidst others) that dedicate their time, parallel to their careers, to the Solar Impulse project. They are thoroughly trained to handle this unique aircraft and usually consist of 8 members per mission.
Given its light weight and delicate structure, the HB-SIA needs to be maintained in equilibrium at all times. This means when the aircraft is gently rolled out of the hangar on a special trolley, two members of the Ground Crew hold onto each of the skids (or wing handles) found under the external motor gondolas. The aircraft can be towed in any direction on the runway and its final position is chosen in coordination with the Air Traffic Control authorities (ATC).
Once the pilot is onboard and ready for take-off, a member of the Ground Crew holds the wings running 30-40 meters as the aircraft propels forwards. The man on the bike closely follows the scene and remains prepared to catch the skids should the pilot abort the take-off.
The Ground Crew always follows the aircraft and is always ready to greet the HB-SIA at is final destination or any alternate airport. When the pilot slowly and cautiously makes his final approach, each member of the Ground Crew swiftly takes position. The biker, the Head of Ground Crew and Assistant Flight Director follow the airplane’s movements attentively. “Ten meters, six meters, four meters… main wheel touchdown!” they call out as the majestic aircraft approaches, helping the pilot make his flare. “You can break now!” hollers out the Head of the Ground Crew, three walkie-talkies around his belt and a VHF radio at hand to communicate with the pilot. While the aircraft slows down, the catching crew grabs the skids, bring it to a halt and the secures it.
Finally, the team does an engine run-up, opens the canopy and helps the pilot disembark. While André or Bertrand stretches his legs, the airplane is taxied back to the hangar and the Ground Crew switches-off the cockpit, unplug the batteries and complete the post-flight checks.
When the HB-SIA lifts itself off the ground, what remains impressed in people’s minds is the image of men on bikes chasing the aircraft. These athletes are part of the Solar Impulse Ground Crew whose role is to ensure the proper functioning of the pilot's equipment, handling of the plane and, when it’s on the ground, ...