Solar Impulse

What is the Solar Impulse?

 Solar Impulse is a project directed and created by Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg, two Swiss aviators. The Project began in 2003 in association with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL). The idea was to construct an airplane that could function entirely on green energy.

The purpose of this project was not only to surpass what had been done technologically in the past, but also to show that advanced technology does not necessarily have to rely on fossil fuels. Bertrand Piccard said: “Our airplane is not designed to carry passengers, but to carry a message.”

Across America 2013

Once solar airplane “HB-SIA” was complete, they tested it by flying to Brussels and Paris in 2010, and to Morocco in 2011. The plane being in good shape, the plan for 2013 was to fly across America from the west to the east coast. The trip started on March 3rd at 6:12am when the HB-SIA left Moffet Field Airport in San Francisco. The trip across America is expected to last two months and to make several stops in Phoenix (AZ), Dallas (TX), St-Louis (MO), and Washington DC. The final stop will be at JFK Airport in New York.

The Pilots

The two pilots participating in this cross-country flight are Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg. Piccard had the idea for the project, and Borschberg was tasked with managing it.

Bertrand Piccard is a Swiss pilot, psychiatrist, and balloonist who received a degree in Medicine and Psychiatry at the University of Lausanne. His grandfather is Auguste Piccard, the physicist, explorer, and first person to reach the stratosphere in a balloon. His father is Jacques Piccard, an engineer and sea explorer. He was thus surrounded and inspired by people who always tried to defy the limits of science. Bertrand Piccard is the first, along with Brian Jones, to complete a non-stop balloon flight around the globe. He practices meditation and hypnosis to resist fatigue and stress during long flights.

André Borschberg is a Swiss engineer and businessman born in Zürich. He received a degree in mechanics and thermodynamics at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL), and a Masters in Management Science from the Sloan School, MIT. His experience creating and managing companies helped him to become CEO of the Solar Impulse project in 2003. In 2010 he became the first person to have flown 26 hours in a solar airplane. He practices meditation and yoga in order to resist fatigue and stress during long flights.


The Solar airplane currently flying across the United States is the HB-SIA. “HB” is the registration number for all Swiss airplanes, and “SIA” stands for “Solar Impulse A”. It is not the first solar plane ever created, but the first able to fly at night with a pilot on board as high as 9235m (30300ft) and as long as 26 hours.

The HB-SIA has a wingspan of 63.40m (208ft) equaling that of an Airbus A340, a length of 21.85m (71ft), and a height of 6.40m (20ft). It weighs 1600 Kg (3527lb) and has four motors that are “brushless” and “sensorless”. The plane has an average speed of 70Km/h (43 mph), a take-off speed of 44 Km/h (27 mph), and a maximum cruising altitude of 8500 m (27, 900 ft).

It produces its energy through the use of 11,628 monocrystalline silicon solar cells that are spread over the wings and horizontal stabilizer.

Future challenges

After their 2013 cross country across the US, Piccard and Borschberg are planning a flight around the globe in 2015. They are already constructing an engine that will be lighter, faster, more spacious, and more resistant to constraining meteorological conditions. It will be the HB-SIB.


Further reading

Solar impulse HB-SIA” by Jacques-Henri Addor

“Around the world in 20 days” by Bertrand Piccard.

“Earth, sky, and sea”, by Auguste Piccard.

“The Sun beneath the Sea”,by Jacques Piccard

To get more information and follow the journey of the Solar Impulse day by day, visit the Solar Impulse website.