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Flying round-the-world without fuel

By Sonny Atumah

Last Monday June 20, 2016 one of the two pioneers’ for clean energy, Bertrand Piccard who took control of the cockpit of a solar airplane at 6.30 UTC from the JFK airport New York, cruised across the Atlantic Ocean without fuel and landed safely at Seville Airport, Spain Thursday June 23, 2016 by 05.38 UTC. The airplane named Solar Impulse 2 had a 71 hours 8 minutes uninterrupted flying time. The Flight 15 in the series of the first Round-The-World Solar Flights without fuel covered a distance of 6765 km, flying electric with solar energy of 1388 kWh, zero fuel and zero emissions. Piccard’s transatlantic adventure was anchored on research and development in aviation powered by the sun.

fuel-pumpSolar Impulse 2 is the first solar airplane ever to fly through the night across the continents as well as the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Founders Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg have attempted the ultimate in 8 world records set by their Solar Impulse prototype. The first transatlantic flight was by Charles Lindbergh from New York to Paris in a fuelled air plane in 1927. The Bertrand Piccard, Andre Borschberg and their team’s breakthrough and adventure in Solar Impulse 2 rekindled aviation pioneering efforts in research and design of two Americans, the Wright Brothers (Orville and Wilbur) who invented, built and flew the world’s first powered airplane in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, USA on December 17 1903.

The rookies, Orville and Wilbur gained mechanical skills essential for their success by working for years in their shop with printing presses, bicycles, motors and other machinery. In our clime the Orville and Wilbur (high school three and four respectively) would have been condemned to obscurity as school dropouts and artisans but America recognizes talent and skill to cap their world. The Wright Brothers achieved the feat in the second Industrial Revolution period which commenced in 1870. Since then the aviation industry has grown and developed to hypersonic flight powered by heavier-than-air jets. The period had key development models in division of labour, electricity, mass production, internal combustion engine, aero plane and moving pictures.

The first three Industrial Revolutions of 1784, 1870 and 1969 had fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) that drove them. The proposed Fourth Industrial Revolution otherwise known as Revolution 4.0 may be driven by renewable and alternative energy sources outside fossil fuels. Revolution 4.0 as proposed anticipates a world’s first solar powered air plane, as well as cyber-physical system innovations in driverless smart cars, artificial intelligence, robotics in hospitals, biotechnology, nanotechnology, mobile banking, and 3.D printing.

Growing concerns on global warming have led to calls for reduction of greenhouse emissions into the atmosphere. The 2015 Paris Conference of Parties (COP 21) to the United Nations made nations have a legally binding and universal agreement on climate to keep global warming below 2p  C. The Group of Seven (G7) industrial nations had considered a knockout for fossil fuels with President Barack Obama initiating processes of the Revolution 4.0 in the United States. His final state of the union address on January 12, 2016, reignited America’s priority to invest in the future and avoid subsidizing the past. That meant fossil fuels would now be a thing of the past and renewables as the future.

Our thoughts on petroleum and its usage in Nigeria have been lethargic; tied to the apron strings of other nations to supply us products. The national oil company is still relying on a group that is already investing in renewable energy to make petroleum products including Jet A, Jet A-1 (kerosene type fuels) and aviation gasoline (Avgas) for private, commercial and military flights sell a dime a dozen. As we go The quest for clean energy is real and might have led to the two Swiss men’s 12 years intense research and development since 2003. The resultant airplane Solar Impulse was built by a small team of 90 ingenious, highly innovative professionals including 30 engineers, 25 technicians 22 mission controllers, weathermen, mathematicians, air traffic controllers and flight director.

The zero fuel Solar Impulse 2, described as an airplane of perpetual endurance has an unusual look. With a wingspan of a Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet of 72metres, it has the wonder weight of a car of 2.3 tonnes.  The plane has a maximum recorded ground speed of 216 km per hour and an average airspeed of 75km per hour. It has flown at a maximum altitude of 28,000 feet with 17,248 solar cells, four propellers and batteries. It was built to promote clean technologies in what major civil and military aircraft makers thought was impossible. The energy reserves of the airplane increase during flight, with every watt supplied by the sun stored in batteries for energy efficiency. It would cover a cumulative distance of 36,602 km, 460hours 39min and solar energy of 9929 kWh in the historic global flights.

Flight one started from Abu Dhabi, UAE at 03.12 UTC (7.12 am local time) with Prince Albert 11 of Monaco who gave Andre the green light. Flying at an altitude of 6383 metres he covered a distance of 772 km, arriving Muscat, Oman at 16.13 UTC on 9th March 2015 after 13 hours 1 minute. The message was to demonstrate what potential clean technologies have for energy saving and renewable energy production.

Alternating the flights Andre took the Flight 8 from Nagoya, Japan at 18.03 UTC on 28th June 2015 arriving Kalaeloa, Hawaii, USA at 15.55 UTC on 03 July 2015 a distance of 8924 km flying and at an altitude of 8634 metres, a flight time of five days and five nights (117 hours and 52 minutes), in a historic first for aviation as well as for renewable energies It thus broke the Steve Fossett’s 2006 record of the longest solo enduring flight of 76 hours 45 minutes. Bertrand completed the leg from Hawaii to San Francisco in 62 hours 29 minutes.

Bertrand Piccard 58 is the initiator and chairman of Solar Impulse. He was born in Lausanne Switzerland into a dynasty of pioneers and scientists. He is a medical doctor (psychiatrist), an explorer, astronaut, lecturer and made the first non-stop round the world balloon flight the longest flight ever in the history of aviation both in distance and duration. He was born into a unique family of distinction of breaking world records for both the highest flight and the deepest dive. His father, Jacque Piccard discovered the deepest part of the world’s ocean and the deepest part of the earth crust. His grandfather, Auguste Piccard twice beat the record for reaching the highest altitude in a balloon during the 1931-1932.

Andre Borschberg 63 was born in Zurich, Switzerland. Borschberg is an engineer, graduate in management science, a fighter pilot, a professional airplane and helicopter pilot, and is co-founder and CEO of Solar Impulse 2. He achieved the longest solo flight ever in aviation history from Nagoya to Hawaii. As a nation we seem to doze in a slumberous heat of the afternoon, procrastinating on diversification in a sing along without coming to reality that we have a few years to explore, produce and refine petroleum for Nigeria’s socio-economic development. We are busy in central revenue sharing, in vampirism and in the universe of the best of all possible worlds of the 17th century where pessimist leaders of the time thanked God that men cannot yet fly and lay waste the sky as well as the earth.

We wish Nigeria would have leaders in heroic moulds for a start off rather than being bogged down in unimportant things.  As the world is being challenged and solutions being found on the reduction in carbon emissions the place of our petroleum is a cause for worry. We must now constitute a think-tank on how to utilize our reserve of fossil fuels. The record breaking flights are a clear signal that petroleum is on its way to being consigned to geologic time.


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