Solar Impulse: Interview with Bertrand Piccard

Solar Impulse is in the air, and has been flying for 12 hours gathering solar energy from its 12,000 solar panels affixed to its massive wings.  Your humble correspondent had a few minutes with Bertrand Piccard, the lead of the Solar Impulse project and the first man to circumnavigate the Earth in a hot air balloon.  Here is my interview with Piccard, giving the latest. (as of 1800, 7June10.)

The Solar Impulse project has been in some stage of development for 7 years.  Much attention has been placed on the technical innovations created to allow this solar plane to fly through the night, but the project is also testing the limitations of a pilot in extreme conditions.  WRS’s Tony Ganzer reports.

The cockpit of Solar Impulse is a tight space, about the size of an economy-class seat in a commercial airliner.

The electric turbine engines provide a slight but steady hum, and act as the only constant sound for pilot Andre Borschberg.  He says the solitude of the cockpit is an experience in itself.

“It is an incredible moment to be up there all alone in this cockpit, watching the stars in the sky, looking at all the lights down there, thinking about flying through the night and thinking about seeing the sun rising very soon,” Borschberg says. “I think this will be incredible”

Borschberg sat focused and cramped in the cockpit day and night.  His water froze in high altitudes and he had an unquenchable thirst for 10 hours.

Solar Impulse project head and Swiss adventurer Bertrand Piccard says part of the challenge for Solar Impulse is testing the limits of the human body, while overcoming self-imposed limitations.

“Limitations are wrong limits, that you inflict to yourself because you believe that you cannot do better, but it’s wrong! Most of the time you can go much further than your limitations, and you can reach the limit,” Piccard says.

Bertrand Piccard
Swiss Adventurer and Solar Impulse spearhead: Bertrand Piccard (SolarImpulse.com)

Piccard, with partner Brian Jones, was the first person to circle the Earth non-stop in a hot air balloon.  He says during his journey around the world, nightfall brought the greatest challenge—darkness and solitude.

For that reason Borschberg has maintained a special diet, has practiced yoga, and studied meditation to help cope in the air.

And with that self control, Piccard says a person can concentrate on the task at hand.

“To accomplish something big, you need the ability to cope with disappointment, with frustration, and with failure,” Piccard says. “And if you accept to cope with that, then you can go beyond, and you can reach success.  Success comes if you try one more time than failures.”

A faulty transmitter forced Solar Impulse to postpone its try at a night flight last week and with good weather this morning, and a plane still brimming with stored solar energy, the crew is cautiously expecting success.

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