The world’s first 100 per cent solar powered flight around the world was in a holding pattern above the Sea of Japan on Monday, as Solar Impulse 2 pilot Andre Borschberg awaited instructions from his team on how to safely cross a weather front that was blocking the path to Hawaii.
The solar odyssey resumed over the weekend, when pilot Andre Borschberg set off on the seventh and longest stretch – and the first oceanic leg of the trip – from Nanjing to Hawaii.
The Solar Impulse website reported that the plane, powered by more than 17,000 solar cells built into its wings, took off from Nanjing, China, on Saturday 30 at 18:39 URC, in an attempt at what could be a “milestone in aviation exploration” – an 8,500km flight by a single pilot.
“Lit by white lights on its wings, the plane climbed into a misty sky with its four whirling propellers nearly silent. Ground crew members cheered as it took off,” reported The Guardian.
— SOLAR IMPULSE (@solarimpulse) June 1, 2015
But despite Borschberg, 62, keeping his fingers crossed that a “good weather window” would pave the way to Hawaii, an update this morning from the Solar Impulse team suggests that window might have closed.
“Yesterday we had the possibility to cross the weather front just before Hawaii on day 5. However, with the forecasts we now have, we don’t see this possibility anymore, which means that for the moment the road to Hawaii is blocked. We need all the data from the next weather forecasts, so that our weather experts can analyze what’s going to happen in the next 4 – 5 days,” Solar Impulse said on Monday morning.
“Whilst we wait for the forecasts, we have decided to hold the position of the aircraft. We have asked André to stay where he is: it’s fine, the weather is good and the batteries are charging. During this time we will analyze where he will have to go to find a possibility to cross that front.”
The team planning the flight has reportedly identified airports in Japan, should the plane need to make a stop because of technical problems.
Today’s decision will be an important one because, as Borschberg has pointed out, “as soon as we leave this part of the world, then afterwards we are in the open sea. There is no way to come back.”
Bad weather has already taken its toll on the world’s first solar-powered circumnavigation of the globe, which began in Abu Dhabi in March with a schedule of 12 legs, and a total flight time of around 25 days.
The Solar Impulse spent two months in China after arriving at Chongqing airport from Myanmar on 31 March, where it had been due to make only a brief stop before continuing to Nanjing but was held up for weeks by weather issues.