Swiss solar plane touches down in Oman

Solar Impulse 2 landed on Monday in Oman, completing the initial leg of its epic bid to become the first solar-powered plane to fly around the world, testing its pilots to the limit.

Swiss solar plane touches down in Oman
Solar Impulse Andre Borschberg and Piccard share a joke before plane takes off from Abu Dhabi. Photo: Marwan Naamani/AFP

The Swiss aircraft touched down in Muscat after nightfall, 13 hours and two minutes after taking off from Abu Dhabi.
Pilot André Borschberg, who was at the controls on the 400-kilometre (215 nautical mile) trip, smiled and waved to his team after landing.
"The adventure has started," Solar Impulse chairman Bertrand Piccard had said just after Borschberg took off in the early morning from Abu Dhabi's Al-Bateen airport on the historic circumnavigation aimed at promoting green energy.
The takeoff by Solar Impulse 2, which had originally been scheduled for Saturday but was delayed because of high winds, capped 13 years of research and testing by Swiss pilots Borschberg and Piccard.
Live video streaming on the website monitoring the unique aircraft's progress showed the pilot, wearing an orange jumpsuit, breathing using an oxygen mask.
"From Mission Control Center in #Monaco the engineers are helping me to perform Oxygen Mask tests from #SolarImpulse," he tweeted.
Borschberg earlier called his wife from on board, according to the live feed.
Shortly before takeoff, the 63-year-old pilot tweeted that the "challenge to come is real for me & the airplane".
The wingspan of the one-seater known as the Si2 is slightly bigger than that of a jumbo jet, but its weight is around that of a family car.
From Muscat, it will make 12 stops on an epic journey spread over five months, with a total flight time of around 25 days.
On Tuesday, it is expected to cross the Arabian Sea to Ahmedabad in India before later legs to Myanmar, China, Hawaii and New York.
Landings are also earmarked for the midwestern United States and either southern Europe or North Africa, depending on the weather conditions.
The longest single leg will see a lone pilot fly non-stop for five days and nights across the Pacific Ocean between Nanjing, China and Hawaii, a distance of 8,500 kilometres (5,270 miles).

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High flyer: Swiss firm H55 wins funds for new electric plane project

A Swiss firm co-founded by one of the key figures in the Solar Impulse project has won Silicon Valley funding towards developing electric aircraft.

High flyer: Swiss firm H55 wins funds for new electric plane project
H55 co-founder Henri Addor. Photo: Henri Addor

Sion-based company Hangar 55 (H55) has been awarded the first-round funding by US venture capital firm NanoDimension, company co-founder André Borschberg announced on Twitter on Tuesday.

An engineer and former fighter pilot, Borschberg also co-founded the Solar Impulse project which led to the first-ever round-the-world flight by a solar airplane – a multi-stage journey completed from 2015 to 2016 that garnered international headlines.

With his new project, Borschberg – along with fellow H55 travellers Sebastien Demont and Gregory Blatt – now hopes to develop and certify clean, safe and quiet electric propulsion systems that can be incorporated into other planes.

“With Solar Impulse the message was about perpetual energy – the ability to fly around the world using only renewable solar energy. H55, which has inherited the know-how acquired with Solar Impulse, will concentrate on the electrification of aircraft, what ever the source of that electricity,” Borschberg told Swiss business magazine Bilan.

H55 unveiled its first aircraft ‘aEro1’ in 2017: a relatively simple one-seat German-made Silence Twister aerobatic flyer fitted with batteries. It could fly for just an hour before those batteries needed charging. A newer version clocked up two hours, at a flying cost of just 3 Swiss francs an hour.

But as Borschberg explained to the science magazine Wired at the time aEro1 was unveiled, the goal is not to try and match Uber and its planned flying cars in terms of excitement.

Instead, the idea is to think small and “prove the safety” of the aviation systems developed so that they get the all-important nod from regulators, allowing new craft, for example, to be allowed to fly over populated areas.

And despite the inherit problems with battery-powered flight – a kilo of aviation fuel contains 30 times more energy than a battery equivalent –Borschberg believes the moment has come to move to electric aircraft.

This is not because he believes batteries are about to suddenly become a lot better, but because of the advantages electric flight offers in terms of both reduced CO2 emissions and in terms of allowing – at some stage in the future – for a complete rethink of airplane design.

Talking to Bilan, Borschberg also highlighted the potential safety benefits and lower maintenance requirements that could derive from developing planes with fewer engines than seen on current aircraft.