Attempting Aviation History (02:47)
In June 2015, a team flies a solar powered aircraft over the Pacific Ocean during an attempt to circumnavigate the globe. Pilot Bertrand Piccard discusses risks in Abu Dhabi, where the Initiator Solar Impulse is assembled.
Abu Dhabi to Oman (04:04)
On March 9, 2015, the Solar Impulse prepares for the first flight leg. Flight operations are controlled from Monaco. Piccard is overcome with emotion as pilot André Borschberg takes off; learn about the five month itinerary.
Solar Impulse Engineering Challenges (02:33)
The solar aircraft is powered by 17,000 solar cells; lithium batteries enable nighttime flight. It is large, light, and fragile. Lead meteorologist Luc Trullemans monitors weather conditions from Monaco; rain, humidity and turbulence can shatter the airplane.
Oman to India (02:08)
Borschberg lands successfully in Muscat and Piccard takes over for the next leg to Ahmedabad. Meteorologists will use high altitude winds to push the Solar Impulse away from cirrus clouds blocking sunlight. Piccard discloses a "healthy" fear of the unknown.
Passion for Exploration (01:49)
Piccard's father Jacques and grandfather Auguste were the first to descend to an ocean trench and to ascend to the stratosphere, respectively. Piccard flew the first non-stop balloon around the world in 1999. Learn about the Solar Impulse's piloting challenges.
Flight Challenges (03:36)
Piccard reports aircraft instability approaching the Ahmedabad airport. The command center prepares for an emergency but Piccard lands successfully and speaks with journalists about the Solar Impulse mission. Locals visit the aircraft while technicians repair minor damages.
Building the Solar Impulse (03:13)
Engineers from aerospace, Formula 1, and elevator manufacturing worked on the aircraft in Dübendorf, Switzerland. Lead designer Peter Frei discusses attempts to make it as light as possible; lithium batteries are the heaviest components. Learn about engine efficiency.
Preparing for Failure (02:40)
Borschberg and Piccard train for an ocean parachute landing. The meteorology team maps a route along the tropics during the dry season to avoid dangerous weather. They plan to cross the Pacific from China in early summer.
Preparing for an Ocean Crossing (04:36)
The Solar Impulse team assembles an inflatable hangar in Myanmar. The pilots undergo a three day flight simulation in 2012. The Safety Review Board is concerned about Piccard's nighttime performance and selects Borschberg for the five day solo trans-Pacific flight.
Sending a Green Technology Message (03:10)
Piccard is disappointed not to pilot the Solar Impulse across the Pacific, but accepts his inexperience. Borschberg uses meditation to prepare for the solo journey in the ultralight aircraft. They speak about their mission to students in Chongqing, China.
Ocean Crossing Challenges (02:43)
Piccard flies from Chongqing to Nanjing. The Solar Impulse will fly at high daytime altitudes to charge batteries, and gradually sink at night. The wings are designed for maximum lift. Engineers try to further reduce aircraft weight.
Weather Uncertainties (02:50)
The Solar Impulse is grounded in China while meteorologists wait for a breach in a Pacific cold front; forecasts are reliable for three days but the journey will last five days. Engineers are anxious about possible technical failures.
Waiting to Cross the Pacific (03:04)
The Solar Impulse team schedules a takeoff but unfavorable weather patterns lengthen the journey; they decide to cancel. The meteorology team regroups.
Solar Impulse Batteries (02:08)
As Nanjing temperatures rise, engineers pump cold air into the battery compartment. See a diagram of lithium cells used in the aircraft. Meteorologists run flight simulations for a month until suitable weather patterns develop.
Crossing the Pacific: First Attempt (04:06)
Borschberg will fly alone for a record-breaking 120 hours from Nanjing to Hawaii. At night, he descends, relying on potential energy gained from altitude and the plane's efficient glide. As bad weather develops, the team must decide whether to turn him back.
A Difficult Decision (02:17)
Borschberg would have to fly through a cold front to reach Hawaii. The team considers whether to divert him to Japan, where they lack landing logistics, or to risk aircraft destruction. They decide to divert the Solar Impulse to Nagoya.
Diversion to Japan (03:19)
Borschberg makes an unscheduled landing in Nagoya, where an emergency crew attempts to assemble a mobile hanger before a storm. The aircraft becomes saturated, threatening the electrical system. Engineers spend a week repairing and drying the aircraft.
Attempting to Leave Japan (04:48)
Air traffic specialists must navigate Nagoya's crowded airspace. Piccard urges the team to continue the mission before they lose daylight. They disassemble the mobile hanger and prepare Borschberg for takeoff, but the weather forecast worsens and they must cancel the flight.
An Unexpected Opportunity (03:12)
Daylight hours are decreasing and the monsoon season approaches Japan. A five day weather window opens for flight to Hawaii; Borschberg is committed to going. The ground crew prepares for takeoff.
Crossing the Pacific: Second Attempt (02:11)
Shortly after Borschberg's takeoff from Nagoya to Hawaii, the MAS autopilot surveillance system fails and wakes him with false alarms. He will have to rely on mission control, but may lose contact over the Pacific.
Deciding Solar Impulse's Future (05:42)
Engineers are concerned about a system failure but Piccard and Borschberg fear returning to Japan would end the project. After a last minute conference call, Borschberg decides to continue toward Hawaii—regardless of personal risk. Some team members want to quit.
Day 2 Over the Pacific (02:50)
The MAS system continues to wake Borschberg with false alarms. Solar Impulse supporters around the world send him encouraging messages. Batteries overheat as he climbs in altitude; engineers recommend he ascend more gradually.
Days 3 and 4 Over the Pacific (02:16)
Turbulence has kept Borschberg awake all night; mission command monitors him closely. Learn about hypoxia risks from ascending without acclimatization. Borschberg shows signs of fatigue and aircraft systems are stressed.
Making Aviation History (03:50)
Borschberg is exhausted and emotional as he lands in Hawaii after a record-breaking flight over the Pacific. Solar Impulse team members celebrate their success.
Maintenance Issues (02:09)
Solar Impulse engineers are upset that Borschberg and Piccard continued flying, against their recommendations. The aircraft’s batteries are damaged and the team decides to wait until the following April to continue the flight around the world.
Preparing to Leave Hawaii (03:30)
Despite tensions, all Solar Impulse members have remained. Engineers have created a valve system to control battery temperature. Piccard has improved his piloting skills in preparation to fly solo over several nights. He discusses inheriting his father and grandfather's drive to explore.
Hawaii to San Francisco (06:19)
In April 2016, Piccard embarks on a three day solo flight. He makes a live video appearance during a U.N. meeting to promote the Solar Impulse mission. After he lands, Silicon Valley representatives gather to meet the team.
Visiting a Jetliner Graveyard (01:56)
While flying across the U.S., Borschberg and Piccard land in Arizona. Borschberg feels nostalgic for traditional aviation technology. Piccard predicts electric passenger airplanes will be operational within a decade.
Leadership Conflict (03:49)
Solar Impulse meteorologists navigate challenging weather across the U.S. In Dayton, the mobile hangar begins to deflate—touching the airplane with unknown consequences. Piccard pushes to keep flying while Borschberg supports assessing for damage. Engineers decide it is safe to fly.
Preparing to Cross the Atlantic (02:29)
The Solar Impulse arrives in New York; Piccard and Borschberg have overcome differences during the 13 year project. Piccard recalls his father's exploratory submarine arriving at the Statue of Liberty. Meteorologists find a corridor of clear weather to Spain.
New York to Seville (02:42)
Piccard takes off on a three day solo flight across the Atlantic, crossing a corridor of clear weather. He harnesses jet stream winds to reach Spain.
Preparing for the Final Leg (03:10)
Borschberg flies from Cairo and compares the Solar Impulse to the pyramids in terms of sustainability. As Piccard prepares to fly to Abu Dhabi, a heat wave presents an engineering challenge for the aircraft. Down drafts make night flight impossible.
Cairo to Abu Dhabi (03:12)
Weather patterns clear for Piccard's final flight to Abu Dhabi; he suffers a stomach virus but decides to go anyway. Journalists gather to witness his take off.
First Solar Flight around the World (04:59)
Piccard faces challenging weather as he approaches Abu Dhabi. He and Borschberg reflect on their seventeen year project and its message of hope for addressing climate change. After fifteen months, the Solar Impulse has circumnavigated the globe.
Credits: The Impossible Flight (00:52)
Credits: The Impossible Flight
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