March 21, 2011
By Alton K. Marsh
First there was the nonstop flight around the world in 1986 by Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager. Now, a no-fuel trip around the Earth, planned for 2014, is being backed by Solvay industries, Omega watch company, Deutsche Bank, and now the Schindler elevator company.
Schindler builds elevators and moving walkways. Now the company is a main sponsor of the Solar Impulse, a feather-light, fragile aircraft that has already flown 26 hours on solar energy alone (unless you count financial backing as fuel). Design of a second prototype is in progress. ( Watch footage of the ungainly monster flying.)
There are many sponsors and contributors, but only four main partners. The addition of Schindler assures there will be funding for the world-circling solar-powered attempt in 2014. The aircraft will climb on battery power by day, and gently descend from high altitude—but under power—at night. It had to overcome controllability problems prior to flying all night.
Bertrand Piccard, psychiatrist and aeronaut who made the first nonstop round-the-world balloon flight, is the initiator and chairman of the Swiss-based Solar Impulse group. André Borschberg, an engineer and graduate in management science, a fighter pilot, and a professional airplane and helicopter pilot, is the CEO.
AOPA Pilot Senior Editor Alton Marsh has been a pilot since 1970 and has an airline transport pilot certificate and instrument and multiengine flight instructor certificates, aerobatic training, and a commercial seaplane certificate.
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