Plane powered by sun
The message of Solar Impulse is that change for better future is possible
Maria Koleva, Brussels
8 September, 2017
The fully packed Brussels Flagey Hall welcomed on 5 September with tumultuous applauses the documentary on the historic journey around the globe made with Solar Impulse, the first ever such tour on solar-powered plane in the world, without even a drop of fuel. The film was presented by Solvay, the first main partner joining the project in 2004, and depicts the very key moments the two Swiss innovators and co-founders of Solar Impulse, Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg, and their team, experienced exploring beyond the possible limits.
Bertrand Piccard inspired the public in Flagey with the message brought by Solar Impulse, namely that change for a better future is possible, if paradigms change. Solar Impulse 2 registered a 40,000km flight, starting from the United Arab Emirates’ capital city Abu Dhabi and passing through Oman, India, Myanmar, China, Japan, USA, Europe and Africa, and ended its adventure in July last year, again in Abu Dhabi. Thanks to the extreme courage of Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg, the world saw that nothing is impossible and that clean energy is not a fiction.
Yet another record made on board of Solar Impulse, the trip from Nagoya to Hawaii, was the longest solo flight in an airplane and took five days and nights. Andre Borschberg, a 65-year-old engineer and entrepreneur, experienced on board something stunning. “Not long after take-off, the system monitoring the automatic pilot gave up the ghost. For the engineers, an absolute ‘no-go’. The weather window was the best seen for two months and the vital functions of the aircraft were in green. You can’t cross an ocean without losing sight of the coast, even if the prospect is frightening,” Borschberg muses upon.
“Change the altitude” is one of Piccard’s buzz phrases. According to him, in education and training we are taught to fear the uncertainties, the changes, the unknown – in other words everything we cannot control. “So what do we do? We acquire all the possible tools to fight against unpredictability and avoid obstacles. We want to have more power, more speed, more control to go in the direction we have chosen. Sometimes it works, but much more often life doesn’t give us exactly what we expected. How often do our dreams become reality?”
Such thoughts drove the psychiatrist from Lausanne when in 1999, then 41, he made his first trip with a balloon around the world. In the basket of a balloon, we can learn something vital: the atmosphere is made out of very different wind layers, which travel in different directions and at different speeds, he said, adding that it means each time we are pushed in a bad direction, the only way to get out of it is to change our altitude and find a layer of wind which will give us a better trajectory. He continues his reflections: in life, we face the same situation, because life is like the atmosphere, everything we face - fashions, trends, the stock exchange, the financial crisis, political decisions, as well as accidents, sicknesses and deaths, success, failure, love and so on, everything is like the wind - it comes to us in a completely unpredictable way and pushes us toward the unknown. So if we are used to hating the unknown, our entire life is going to be a nightmare.
Let’s try to play more often an active role in our future rather than be a victim of our fate, by changing altitude in the winds of life, Bertrand Piccard urged, promoting now his next huge project for establishing the World Alliance for Efficient Solutions. We need to embrace clean technologies, not because they are “ecological”, but because they are “logical”. For as long as I can remember, climate change and environmental degradation have been framed as a problem to be confronted, Piccard said. It was depressing, then it was boring, and now many of us are just numb to it, even though it impacts upon the lives of millions of people. But lately, I feel we have turned a corner. Since 2011, when we flew the first prototype of Solar Impulse to Brussels for Green Week, much has changed, he pointed out, noting that, today, solutions to fight climate change have become profitable.