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Fly the sunny skies

• Aug 6, 2016 at 5:00 PM

The following editorial was published this week in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (TNS):

The Solar Impulse 2 has landed. More than a year after beginning its 25,000-mile trek around the world using only the sun as a fuel source, Solar Impulse 2 has returned to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, the country where its historic flight began.

This is a big deal. For the first time ever, a two-pilot team was able to circle the globe without using a drop of fossil fuel. The 5,070-pound solar-powered aircraft with a 236-foot wingspan was piloted by Solar Impulse 2 chairman Bertrand Piccard and co-pilot Andre Borschberg taking turns for long solo stretches. Though it is a monumental technological breakthrough, it didn't come easy for the pilots.

The trip, which achieved average flight speeds of 28 to 56 mph, was delayed for nine months after the aircraft's 17,248 solar cells were damaged during a flight from Japan to Hawaii.

Still, Solar Impulse racked up 500 flight hours and glided across four continents, three seas and two oceans. Some of its stops included China, India, Japan, Myanmar, Egypt, southern Europe and the United States. During its trek across America, Solar Impulse stopped in Pittsburgh where Paige Kassalen, a 23-year-old electrical engineering graduate of Virginia Tech, is part of the plane's pit crew. (Covestro, where Kassalen works, is the lead corporate sponsor of Solar Impulse.)

The strategic breakthrough that this technology represents is undeniable. Clean, renewable energy in the form of sunshine that can't be metered has provided fuel for a flight around the world for the first time in human history. This is an innovation in energy that has implications going forward for every sector of modern industrial society. It isn't too much of an exaggeration to say that Solar Impulse has ushered in a new era.

As solar and other non-renewable technology matures, so will the speed and capacity of planes and other modes of transportation to travel the globe without polluting. The days of fossil fuel as a staple of transportation are numbered thanks to the year long flight of Solar Impulse.

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