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Solar Impulse heads to televisionSolar Impulse heads to television

Powered by the sun and driven by a dream of demonstrating the potential of alternative energy, Solar Impulse 2 pilots Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg spent days and nights on end in the cockpit, and years realizing their dream. The story of their epic voyage has been condensed into two hours in an upcoming documentary on public television.

Solar Impulse 2 approaches to land in Abu Dhabi, concluding its round-the-world solar-powered flight. Photo courtesy of Solar Impulse.

The long-running PBS science series NOVA will debut The Impossible Flight Jan. 31, offering an inside look at the project that was more than a decade in the making and fraught with unprecedented challenges. The pilots and their team endured several setbacks along the way, but the story ended with triumph, and a collection of world records including the longest flight in history made without a drop of fuel.

Granted “extensive access” to the pilots and crew, according to the film’s online description, the documentary producers cover the journey of an airplane once deemed by many experts to be impossible to build, or control, much less fly nonstop for days and nights. The story includes moments of crisis, both technical and personal, and triumph.

Solar Impulse engineers created an innovative combination of 17,000 solar cells, batteries that accounted for much of the gross weight, and electronic controls that allowed the huge but fragile airplane to motor slowly but steadily through the night. Piccard and Borschberg flew alternating legs, and used a variety of techniques to endure long stints in a cramped cockpit, snatching precious moments of rest that were often interrupted, and supported by an extensive ground team that helped solve technical problems and find breaks in the weather. While the aircraft could endure the night, it could not endure much turbulence, and careful flight planning and accurate weather forecasting were required to safely complete the circumnavigation that began in March 2015 and concluded in July 2016.

The documentary debuts at 9 p.m. Eastern/8 p.m. Central Jan. 31 on PBS.

Jim Moore

Jim Moore

Editor-Web Jim Moore joined AOPA in 2011 and is an instrument-rated private pilot, as well as a certificated remote pilot, who enjoys competition aerobatics and flying drones.
Topics: Technology

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