Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg, the Solar Impulse 2 pilots grounded in Hawaii as they await repairs on their plane, have temporarily traded flight training for ocean sports.
Earlier this week the Solar Impulse crew said they would delay the continuation of their attempt to fly around the world on solar power until April because of needed repairs to the plane’s batteries and the shorter days as fall approaches. The delay comes after Borschberg successfully piloted the single-seat plane to Hawaii from Japan this month, a five-day journey that set records for distance and duration of a solar-powered flight.
With the plane now sitting idle in a hangar at Kalaeloa Airport, Borschberg, 62, said he is learning to surf.
“I did some surfing, but I am not too good yet,” Borschberg said in an interview with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “I am happy I can stay a bit longer. I am happy I am able to come back to train more. To stand up in the waves, that is still a challenge.”
Borschberg and Piccard are staying in Kailua and plan to see as much of Oahu as possible before leaving the isles next week.
“It is really something different from anywhere else,” Piccard, 57, said. “It is also good to take a little bit of time because it has been pretty hectic these last four months.”
“Kite surfing, diving — you know, it’s a fantastic place here,” said Piccard. “I did two days of kite surfing in Kailua.”
“There is a great botanic garden that I want to visit,” Borschberg added. “I’ve never been on the north part of the island. I have heard it is beautiful. So, I have to go there as well. Finally, I have to visit Pearl Harbor Museum, and that is for Friday morning.”
Piccard, who is scheduled to fly the plane to Arizona when it leaves Hawaii, said he was grateful to enjoy time with his family on the island. Piccard arrived early this month with his wife and three children to greet his “solar brother” as Borschberg landed in Honolulu on July 3 after the most dangerous leg of the round-the-world journey.
The eight-month hiatus gives the Swiss pilots time to regroup and repair.
First, the batteries need to be changed and manufactured, Borschberg said.
“It will take a few weeks or a few months,” Borschberg said. “Early next year we will be back to prepare the airplane for the continuation of the flight.”
In the early months of 2016, Piccard said, the Solar Impulse team will open up the hangar to the public as they did shortly after landing.
“There will be action, and the public will come and be able to see what we are doing,” Piccard said.
The airplane will have to do test flights to confirm it’s ready to continue in April.
University of Hawaii students will get another opportunity to view the plane as early as February.
“We will have interactions with the university, with the students,” Piccard said. “What we are planning to do is to create a lot of discussions with the students so that they can see what we do and how we do it, hopefully to be an inspiration for them to find their own passions to make their dreams come alive.”
The plane is using a University of Hawaii educational hangar at Kalaeloa rent-free. University spokesman Dan Meisenzahl said the school had hangar space available because it had been phasing out a program training pilots.
Since leaving Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, in March, the plane has traveled to Muscat, Oman; Ahmedabad and Varanasi, India; Mandalay, Myanmar; Chongqing and Nanjing, China; and Nagoya, Japan. From Hawaii the plane will fly to Phoenix, then an undetermined city in the Midwest, New York, southern Europe or North Africa, and back to Abu Dhabi.
The wings of Solar Impulse, which stretch wider than those of a Boeing 747, are equipped with 17,000 solar cells that power propellers and charge batteries. The plane runs on stored energy at night.
The most dangerous leg of the 13-leg voyage was the trip from Japan to Hawaii. If the plane failed to make it for any reason, Borschberg was prepared to bail out with a parachute and an inflatable life raft.
“It was the best way not to be too anxious about the worst situation, to train it well,” Borschberg said. “We both trained how to jump out, how to free-fall, how to use the parachute. We trained with the Navy how to survive in the oceans.”
The pilots prepared falling with the parachute at night and how to get organized without being able to see in a difficult ocean environment.
“We trained Andre well for the flight,” Piccard said.
Landing in the water with the parachute, getting rid of the straps, inflating the life raft, using emergency equipment and surviving on the water — Borschberg was ready to execute it all.
“It is always better to be trained, because if you don’t know how to do it, you die. If you do know how to do it, you survive. Of course, the goal is not to use it, but you have to be ready,” Piccard said.
Borschberg, a trained fighter pilot, said the plane was equipped with multiples of the most necessary equipment, which made the use of the parachutes “not plan B or plan C, but plan Z.”
“We had four motors,” Borschberg said. “I would be able to lose one and still fly with three.”
Less of a concern was the camera constantly trained on Borschberg through the five days and often streaming live video.
The pilot said he was not bothered by the constant eyes watching him sit in the 4-by-61⁄2-foot cockpit, calling the 24/7 surveillance by the Mission Control Center in Monaco his “eyes into the future.”
“I completely forget,” Borschberg said. “In fact, I completely forget that it is broadcasted. I forget that it is online. For me it is completely natural.”
The surveillance was vital soon after takeoff from Japan, when the plane was having trouble with its batteries.
“Especially the overheating of the batteries that we encountered, many remote co-pilots helped me steer the airplane.”
Piccard said he would be spending the next several months raising funds to pay for the unexpected extra months of the project. The solar plane venture has spent about $150 million since it kicked off 13 years ago.
Piccard said he was happy with the demonstration of the plane’s technology despite the battery problems.
“It was a demonstration that it was a real vision, not a crazy dream,” Piccard said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.