Aviation News

January 21, 2015

Solar Impulse Unveils Details of Round-The-World Flight

If you have followed NYCAviation for a while, you have probably realized that we have somewhat of an obsession with Solar Impulse. The solar powered aircraft project has been steadily gaining attention over the past several years as it has traveled around Europe, to North Africa, and finally across North America

The greatest feat for the Solar Impulse project, however, is only just about to begin: An attempt at a flight around the world. Scheduled to take place later this year, this new goal required an entirely new aircraft. As a result, the original Solar Impulse aircraft ,registered HB-SIA, has been retired. In its place is a new, larger, and more powerful aircraft, HB-SIB. The new aircraft, dubbed Solar Impulse 2, will be capable of flying the transoceanic distances required for a flight around the world. These distances will take the slow moving Solar Impulse several days to cover.

Following its rollout last April, HB-SIB embarked on a series of test flights during the summer. Familiarization flights for the co-founders and pilots Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg lasted into the month of October. Following the completion of these flights, the aircraft was disassembled for transportation to Abu Dhabi. That Middle Eastern city was chosen last year as the starting point for the flight around the world.

Earlier this month, the pieces of HB-SIB were loaded onto a Cargolux 747-400 and flown overnight to the United Arab Emirates. There, the aircraft was reassembled, and last weekend it was rolled out of its hangar to begin the process of charging its batteries.

While Abu Dhabi was chosen as the start and finish line for 2015’s journey, the only other details had been quite vague. For example, it had been announced that China had given permission to use its airports and airspace. Beyond that, only a very rough routing had been revealed.

That all changed Tuesday morning in Abu Dhabi, when most of the details about the flight’s route were announced. There are, however, a few stops that will be announced at a later date.


The first flight will be a short hop across the desert from Al Bateen Executive Airport (AZI) in Abu Dhabi to Muscat International Airport (MCT) in Oman. That flight is expected to take place in late February or early March. Next comes the first oceanic flight of the journey, a roughly 900 mile flight across the Gulf of Oman to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport (AMD) in Ahmedabad, India.

Next the trip will hop its way across the Indian Subcontinent and Southern Asia, staying south of the peaks of the Himalayas, some of which are higher than Solar Impulse’s cruising altitude. Stops are planned at Lal Bahduar Shastri Airport (VNS) in Varanasi, India, and Mandalay International Airport (MDL) in Mandalay, Myanmar. Departing Myanmar, Solar Impulse 2 enters China, where 2 stops are planned. First is Chongqing Jiangbei International Airport (CKG), followed by Nanjing Lukou International Airport (NKG) in Eastern China.

The longest leg of the flight around the world is up next. The flight across the Pacific Ocean to Kalaeloa Airport (JRF) is a whopper at nearly 5,100 miles. Kalaeloa Airport is located just west of Honolulu on the Island of Oahu. The stop in Hawaii is one of four planned for the United States.

The remainder of the Pacific will be crossed in an almost 3,000 mile flight to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX). Phoenix is the first city on the around the world flight to see a second visit by a Solar Impulse aircraft. The original Solar Impulse visited the Arizona airport during 2013’s Across America flights.

The third U.S. stop is in a midwestern city that is still to be announced. While the approximate distances announced place that third stop in St. Louis, none of the major airports in that region can be ruled out at this point. The actual airport to be visited will be announced sometime before this summer’s flight.

The final U.S. stop for for Solar Impulse 2 will be New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK). JFK was the endpoint for Across America, a flight that was marred by a technical issue forcing the team to cancel planned flybys of various landmarks. Instead, the aircraft managed an approach to Runway 22L that stayed almost entirely over the water. For those who had the chance to witness the late night arrival, it proved to be one of the most impressive approaches ever made to the airport. During the route announcement, the Solar Impulse team indicated that they hope to again use Hangar 19. That hangar, currently vacant, was once used to perform maintenance on PanAm’s 747 fleet. JFK will also be the northernmost stop on the around the world tour.

The next leg will take HB-SIB across the Atlantic Ocean in a single hop. The destination, while not yet revealed, will either be in Southern Europe (likely on the Iberian Peninsula) or Northern Africa. The list of potential airports in the region that could be used include airports in Madrid and Seville, Spain, and Rabat and Casablanca, Morocco. Madrid and Rabat were both stops on 2012’s Destination Morocco journey.

Update: The Solar Impulse team has confirmed that the two stops that are still unknown will be announced prior to takeoff, and that they are dependent on weather conditions enroute and at the destination.

Finally, Solar Impulse 2 will embark on its second longest leg of the trip, back to Abu Dhabi for the completion of the around the world flight. The final leg is estimated to be approximately 3,600 miles long.

The entire journey is expected to last approximately five months, with completion set for late July or early August. Due to the nature of the aircraft, ideal weather conditions are needed in order for each leg to proceed. Winds aloft are a major consideration when the crusing airspeed of the aircraft is 30 to 60 miles per hour.

If you are interested in spotting this unique aircraft, you should know that departures usually occur early in the morning and arrivals are often late at night. Dates and times for these flights are typically announced on the Solar Impulse website as well as on their Twitter feed.

Ben Granucci, Standards Editor, is an aviation enthusiast and plane spotter based in New York City. Growing up in Connecticut, he has had his eyes toward the sky for as long as he can remember. He can be reached on Twitter at @BLGranucci or through his blog at Landing-Lights.com.


About the Author

Ben Granucci
Ben Granucci, Senior Editor, is an aviation enthusiast and plane spotter based in New York City. Growing up in Connecticut, he has had his eyes toward the sky for as long as he can remember. He can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter.



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