For the first time in human history, an airplane has successfully circumnavigated the globe without using a drop of fuel. It just took a while.
Solar Impulse’s trip around the world with a solar-powered airplane officially came to an end this week, after kicking off in March 2015. From a long spell of storms over the Pacific that blocked the sun, to an incident that fried the plane’s batteries (causing a nine-month delay), to ultra-hot temperatures that caused another delay over Saudi Arabia, the mission has not been without its challenges. But that certainly only makes the accomplishment that much sweeter.
The plane is a legit feat of engineering, using more than 17,000 solar cells on its wings to supply power to electric motors and charging four lighting batteries. Thanks to the setup, the craft can fly day and night (assuming it’s not a dark day, of course). The plane has a wingspan of 236 feet (wider than a Boeing 747) but weighs just 5,000 pounds. It has four 17.4-horsepower motors and tops out at just 90 mph. But the trip over the Pacific averaged a mere 38 miles per hour.
Is a 90-mph airplane that can only function under sunny skies all that practical? Well, no, not really. But it’s a technological marvel and proof that just about anything is possible if you fight hard enough to make it happen.