The Pilot Flying the First Solar-Powered Plane Across the Atlantic Is Awesome

Bertrand Piccard calls himself an "Inspioneer."

by Kastalia Medrano

Early Monday morning, a pilot named Bertrand Piccard began a four-day journey across the Atlantic ocean in a solar-powered plane — the first time such an attempt has been made. The Solar Impulse 2 took of for Seville, Spain in an effort to demonstrate the power and potential of clean energy.

The plane will use no fuel, and so will produce zero emissions. Instead, the non-stop flight is powered by an electric engine comprising four batteries, charged by more than 17,000 solar cells.

This flight is actually a segment of a larger effort by Solar Impulse 2 to circumnavigate the globe, a journey it began in Abu Dhabi in 2015.

You can follow @solarimpulse for updates over the next four days, during which Piccard will be able to take only brief naps as he crosses the ocean. He tweets at @bertrandpiccard, though presumably someone else is handling that at the moment.

From JFK to Sevilla, Spain, the solar plane departs on Monday morning from New York City.

In a biography on his website titled “In Brief,” which I submit should be re-titled “Actually Not All That Brief” (plus, there are several of them), Piccard describes himself as “a pioneer unconstrained by certitude and stereotypes, an explorer of the human spirit more than an adventurer, [who] rejects all dogmas other than the need for all-embracing curiosity.” The word “Inspioneer” is also featured, which I very much hope he coined and has taken the time to trademark in some fashion because I don’t want to stumble across it without warning again.

All of that aside, Piccard is of course doing something very cool. He (or whomever wrote his website copy, but let’s just say it was he) calls the solar plane “life’s project: a solar airplane capable of flying through day and night without fuel, demonstrating the efficiency of new clean technologies in conserving our planet’s natural resources.” Working with André Borschberg, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, and the European Commission and Parliament, Piccard spent years designing and constructing the original model, Solar Impulse. It made flights to Brussels and Paris in 2010. The whole project has achieved a number of firsts over the years, but the crossing of the Atlantic might well be the biggest. Piccard, though, seems the man to do it. In his own words:

“The first surprising thing about Bertrand Piccard is the extreme diversity of his interests and abilities. A real visionary, he formulates his projects pioneering philosophies and sketches out their symbolic significance and relevance for the public. The stratosphere and ocean depths attracted his forefathers, but the issues of today fascinate him: sustainable development, responsibility, the fight against poverty, technologies for environmental protection…”

Good luck these next four days, dude. We’re all pulling for you.