Solar Impulse = solar inspiration...
hw au 14 2 What has the wingspan of an airbus, the weight of a car and the engine power of a scooter? And is set to fly round the world too? The answer is Solar Impulse – the only aircraft of perpetual endurance, able to fly day and night on solar power, without a drop of fuel.

To investigate, the Brussels Business Club invited recently Claude Michel, Head of the Solvay Solar Impulse Partnership as keynote speaker. Claude guided the audience through the recent history of the Solar Impulse towards its ultimate challenge attempt the First-Round-The-World Solar Flight, an adventure scheduled for 2015.

Yet there’s nothing impulsive about this initiative. The idea was conceived back in 1999 when Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones completed their flight around the world in a balloon. They landed with 4 kg of liquid propane down from 3.7 ton at the beginning of the adventure. Bertrand made a resolution that his next flight around the world would be fuel and emission free. It was the start of a thrilling adventure, during which Bertrand and his team were to demonstrate how pioneering spirit, innovation and clean technologies could make the impossible, possible.

'An inspiration to change our world
through innovation and pioneering spirit.'

After that, a feasibility study was begun by André Borschberg, who was not only a Swiss engineer and graduate of the Sloan Management School of MIT, but also an entrepreneur and fighter pilot. When this was published in November 2003 announcing the launching of the project, there was no way back. It was not only the beginning of a heroic project, but also of a friendship between two men, who decided to work together, sharing above all an inspiration to change our world through innovation and pioneering spirit. Between 2004 and 2006 they sought and found their first partners - Semper, Altran and Solvay - who brought with them both the funds and the know-how to start hiring engineers and to tackle the concept development from the start. Indeed the team was not only looking for financial help, but looked for companies, who could also bring both technical know-how and who also shared the common values of the project:
  • Responsibility: a mindset of respect, sustainability and quality of life;
  • Humanism: whose purpose is to encourage young people, opinion leaders and politicians to rediscover the desire to meet major challenges and place human values and a balanced human environment back in the center of the discussion;
  • Determination: today’s pervading pessimism will not resolve the environmental, humanitarian and economic challenges facing the planet. Let’s shake off our present immobility and implement new solutions with conviction, enthusiasm and a pioneering spirit;
  • Innovation: new technologies exist which can save huge quantities of fossil fuels and natural resources without reducing our comfort and quality of life;
  • Effectiveness: environmental protection will achieve a consensus only when economically profitable. Let’s make haste to reconcile economic, ecological and social interest.

In 2010 they achieved the first night flight in the history of solar aviation and later that year went on to break three world records:
  • Maximum altitude: 9.235 meter
  • Maximum duration: 26h 10m 19s
  • Gain in altitude: 8.744

Their success continued with a maiden flight over the Mediterranean in 2012, followed in 2014 by a first flight across America from coast to coast.

All in all Solar Impulse is a prime example of achieving the impossible: how a small team of bright minds and indubitable spirits found solutions where none previously existed - and made fly something that others said could not.