Pilot Andre Borschberg made history on Jul. 3 when his solar-powered plane touched down at a small airport near Honolulu. Borschberg broke a world record for the longest nonstop solo flight and he did it without using fuel.

The trip took 117 hours and 52 minutes of flying over the Pacific Ocean from Japan to Hawaii. It was made in the Solar Impulse 2, a plane that relies on 17,000 solar cells for power. The solar energy collected by the cells is stored and used to keep the plane functioning throughout the night. In addition to breaking the record for longest solo flight, Borschberg also broke records in distance and duration for solar aviation.

The Solar Impulse 2 moves relatively slowly while in flight; 28 mph is an ideal speed, but the craft can move faster when fully charged. Made of carbon-fiber, its 5,000 pounds are a small fraction of what most commercial airplanes weigh. While the plane’s lightness can be beneficial, it can also make unfavorable weather conditions even more hazardous. Before the Solar Impulse 2 could take off from Japan, meteorologists had to closely monitor the upcoming weather.

The trip between Japan and Hawaii marks the completion of the most difficult and possibly most dangerous leg of the plane’s current round-the-world journey. The record-breaking trip began in March in Abu Dhabi and will continue next to Phoenix and then New York. Borschberg undertook the Solar Impulse project with co-pilot and business partner Bertrand Piccard, who will now take control of the cockpit for the trip to Phoenix.

Piccard commented on the landing, “Now you can fly longer with no fuel than you can with fuel. So, what Andre has done is not only a historic first for aviation, it’s a historic first for renewable energies. And this is why we are doing this project.”

Activity: The Internet is filled with DIY solar projects, but they can get quite complex and expensive. This USB solar charger made from an Altoid tin is a doable project for beginners looking to learn more.

Jobs: Aerospace engineer, energy efficiency analyst

Sources: Sciencedaily.com, BBC News

Photo Credit: Creative Commons