world records

Not just sun: yoga powers first solar plane attempting to fly around the world

The pilots credit India's yoga with helping them to subsist on scanty sleep in flight.

The world’s first solar aircraft to attempt to circumnavigate the globe was to land in Ahmedabad on Tuesday night. If successful, this flight could be the first step in making air travel less polluting.

After spending an unspecified amount of time in Gujarat, the plane, Solar Impulse 2, will move on to Varanasi and from there to Mandalay in Myanmar. It is expected to finish its journey by July or August.

Apart from its pit stops in India, the plane has another link with the subcontinent. Bertrand Piccard and André  Borschberg, the pilots and masterminds of the project, will use yoga and self-hypnosis to ensure that they use their 20-minute sleep slots as efficiently as possible.

“Yoga originated in India over 5,000 years ago, and today is used by André Borschberg while flying Si2,” the website says about the aircraft's stop in Ahmedabad.  It added that the two men will "use the opportunity to talk about clean technologies among Gujarat's rapid technical innovation”.

The attempt by Solar Impulse 2 comes 90 years after four US military planes completed the world’s first aerial circumnavigation in 1924, but could not be more different. The 1924 flight could only be monitored from one landing point to another. Solar Impulse 2, however, can be tracked on the internet every minute of its flight.

A website streams a live feed from the cockpit and the control room in Monaco. Piccard and Borschberg are live tweeting updates from the plane and posting pictures and videos from each destination. And there has been a blitz of explainer videos for several months now.

The two seem to have cordial relations with the Indian government. They tweeted at Piyush Goel, Minister of Energy and Gujarat Chief Minister Anandiben Patel about their flight plans.

Creating aviation history

Solar planes have been around since 1979, but have become viable enough for long flights only in the past decade. These spindly creatures are still a far cry from the giant passenger planes that ferry millions of people across the world each year. The Solar Impulse-2, much like early mechanical planes, is only a two-seater and putters along at only 55 km per hour. It can, however, fly through the night, because of an impressive array of solar batteries.

Piccard and Borschberg, both Swiss citizens and the innovators behind the plane, have been working on this project since 2003, in an attempt to develop viable alternate clean travel technology. At each destination, the two plan to speak with schools, NGOs and governments to pitch their idea of clean energy. The prototype of the plane, Solar Impulse 1, has already flown from Morocco to Switzerland and across America.

The plane began its journey in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates on March 9 and will cover 12 stops around the world in 25 flight days spread across an estimated five months. Their longest stretch of flying will be five days and five nights crossing the Pacific Ocean from China to the US.

If the two succeed, this will be Piccard’s second circumnavigation record. In 1999, he became the first person to fly around the world in a balloon, a craft that is considerably more difficult to direct than a plane, even one that is powered only by solar energy.

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