Solar Impulse’s Central Nervous System
In many of our communication materials and on our LIVE streaming of flights we talk about the Mission Control Center (MCC) and crucial decision-making that takes place within its walls. For example, during last week’s first attempt to reach Ouarzazate, the choice to turn back and abort the mission came from there. And the green light to undertake a second one, today Thursday 21 June, emerged out of that same room.
But who is behind all this? A wonderful team of experts that, by working together almost as in a symbiosis, make it all happen. The MCC consists of a team of approximately 15 people all focused on different tasks vital for mission flights. There are two meteorologists, three flight test engineers, two air controllers, two modeling and simulation specialists and others all working under the management and coordinator skills of the Flight Director, Raymond Clerc.
With over 17'000 flight hours under his belt, Raymond has over 40 years of experience as a pilot with the Swiss Air Force and Swissair. He first met André and Bertrand during his years with the Swiss Air Forces, for the former, and through a passion for hang gliding, for the latter, meeting them 40 and 35 years ago respectively.
In 2005, André contacted Raymond asking him to give a helping hand with the project, which he gladly accepted. Initially hired as a consultant, he continued his career with private executive jets. But in 2010, with the first mission flights in Switzerland, Raymond quit his job and dedicated himself as full-time Flight Director for Solar Impulse.
So what is his role? Before a mission flight, Raymond and his team study the projected energy use for the flight plan, contact and inform the destination airports and evaluate meteorological information to design a safe and appropriate flight plan. In the heat of a flight, Raymond is practically the mission’s gravitational center. He ensures that everything is properly and effectively coordinated and acts as the central line of communication while André or Bertrand is in the cockpit. To not overwhelm the pilots with unnecessary information, Raymond collects and resumes the essentials and transmits it to the skies.
What is particularly interesting is the steep learning curve that the Solar Impulse team has undergone since the first Swiss flights, in 2010, to Geneva and Zurich. During the 2011 missions to Brussels and Paris Le Bourget, Raymond and a couple members of his team went directly to the destination airports on several occasions to properly study the landing ground. However, during this year’s Crossing Frontiers flight, none of Raymond’s team set foot in Morocco before the HB-SIA’s landing in Rabat-Salé airport on 6 June 2012.
In many ways, this year’s mission is truly a dress rehearsal for the 2014 tour around the world. It has taught the MCC team to deal with foreign airports and air traffic control centers from the office in Payerne (Switzerland) allowing them to work more with local authorities than previously. “It’s simply amazing for me to work on such a project. Unlike military and commercial airlines, at Solar Impulse we always seek new solutions and learn from our decisions and actions. It’s extremely stimulating and a great way to end my career,” said Raymond as we spoke on the phone “it certainly takes a lot of my free time, especially during mission flights, but I have no regrets and, in any case, I have the entire autumn months to recharge my batteries” he exclaimed with a giggle.
In many of our communication materials and on our LIVE streaming of flights we talk about the Mission Control Center (MCC) and crucial decision-making that takes place within its walls. For example, during last week’s first attempt to reach Ouarzazate, the choice to turn back and abort the mission came from there. ...