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The last sunrise from aboard the Solar Impulse 2 which will complete its round-the-world clean flight today. Aboard is pilot Bertrand Piccard, who also holds the record for the first global flight in a balloon. (Solar Impulse)

The solar-powered airplane Solar Impulse 2, has landed in Abu Dhabi completing 40,000 kms in around 500 hours, with short and long breaks due to weather and technical problems. No fuel was consumed, no emissions whatsoever.

The last leg from Cairo to Abu Dhabi had its challenges beginning with take-off which was delayed due to trying desert weather and pilot health. After waiting a few days the flight took off on July 23rd and landed in Abu Dhabi after 48 hours, signaling a big victory to the pilots’ ability and importantly, to the clean technology they want to promote.

Flying the craft on its last leg was Bertrand Piccard. On landing, the pilot and founder of the Solar Impulse was in tears and addressed the crowd at the gathering, saying: “Salam Alaikkum..good morning Abu Dhabi. Thank you for your welcome. I have been waiting for this moment for past 15 years. We have flown 40,000 kilometres without a drop of fuel. Now it is your turn to take it forward.

“When you see the state of the world today it is a crime to not try and make the world a better place?” he asked.”Why don’t we dream more? Why don’t we try more? When you see the results today, it’s because our team dreamed. A lot is starting today. A lot is possible because we have dared to fail, when you dare to fail you can succeed.”

Earlier in the flight journey from Spain to Egypt, pilot Andre Borschberg, who is the co-founder of SI said, “This was an emotional and meaningful leg for me, being able to enjoy once more the incredible sensation of flying day and night thanks only to the energy of the sun and enjoying fully the present moment. He also piloted the world’s longest solo flight of five days and five nights when he flew the craft from Japan to Hawaii.

Solar Impulse 2 developed after 12 years of research is designed to fly day and night without using any fossil fuel. The single-seater plane is powered entirely by 17,000 solar cells and onboard batteries, which charge during the day to enable the plane to fly continuously through the night and during cloudy weather.

Weighing just a 2300 kgs the SI is roughly like car aloft, with a wingspan of 72 metres, wider than a Boeing. Being light allows for lesser energy consumption but also makes the craft susceptible to turbulence and winds.

Solar Impulse 2 embarked on its journey from Abu Dhabi on March 2015. It stopped twice in India, then Myanmar, China and Japan and Hawaii, before taking a long break of almost 10 months for major repairs on the overheated batteries. It then flew to Hawaii in April this year, thence to US and across the Atlantic in three days during June.

The two Swiss pilots are Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg. Piccard is a medical doctor specialized in psychiatry, besides being an explorer who made the first non-stop round-the-world balloon flight in 199. André Borschberg is an engineer and graduate in management science, a fighter pilot and a professional airplane and helicopter pilot.

While the flight has its technical challenges, making it a truly historic flight around the world, the two would like to call more attention to the clean technology rather than their flight prowess. The duo call themselves ambassadors for a clean future.

Aviation is the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions today. A to and fro flight from London to New York generates the same level of emissions as the average person in the EU does by heating their home for a whole year. Direct emissions from aviation account for about 3% of the EU’s total greenhouse gas emissions, says the European Commission.

By 2020, global international aviation emissions are projected to be around 70% higher than in 2005 and by 2050 they could grow by a further 300-700%. In the light of this and the urgency building around climate change, the Solar Impulse demonstrates that solar energy could help alleviate the emissions. It will need to be developed further to take on large numbers on board. The SI could accommodate just one person.

Clearly, for the team the round-the-world flight is a victory. A fruition of a dream. A time to rejoice.

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