Magazine article Foreign Policy

The Solar Pilot: Bertrand Piccard

Magazine article Foreign Policy

The Solar Pilot: Bertrand Piccard

Article excerpt

IN BERTRAND PICCARD'S family, there's a tradition of being first. His grandfather, Auguste, was the first person to ride a balloon into the stratosphere. His father, Jacques, was the first to reach the Earth's deepest point, the Pacific's Mariana Trench. And in 1999, Bertrand completed the first nonstop, around-the-world balloon flight. That feat, plus an environmentally conscious approach to innovation, spurred the renowned Swiss adventurer to dream of circumnavigating the globe in a plane that uses no fuel.

The result? Solar Impulse 2, an aircraft equipped with more than 17,000 solar cells. Thanks to lithium batteries that efficiently store energy reserves, it's the first solar-powered plane that can fly through the night. "If we want to solve our pollution and energy problems," says Piccard, a psychiatrist by training, "we need to increase our energy efficiency and focus on clean technologies. Solar Impulse is really a way to show that these technologies are mature."

In March, Piccard and Andre Borschberg, a former fighter pilot in the Swiss Air Force, will take off from Abu Dhabi for a five-month journey. They will land every few days to trade shifts in the plane's cockpit. (While one man is in the plane, the other will be on the ground traveling to meet Solar Impulse II at its next destination.) The pilots will sleep in 20-minute spurts, practice yoga and self-hypnosis techniques to remain alert, and use a toilet built into the cockpit's seat.

FOREIGN POLICY spoke with Piccard to learn what, if not tons of fuel, are essential resources when circling the world.

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Icaro-brand helmet

We tried a lot of different helmets. Eventually I saw an advertisement for one in a hang-gliding magazine and thought it might work. We called the manufacturer and they adapted the helmet for our use. …

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