Aviation history is being made right this very second, and your Internet browser can give you a front-row seat.
The Solar Impulse, an aircraft powered entirely by solar power, began an epic transatlantic crossing attempt late last month. On Tuesday morning, Solar Impulse and one of her pilots, former balloonist Bertrand Piccard, was completing the second leg of the journey: an airborne hop from Spain to the Moroccan capital of Rabat.
12,000 solar cells provide juice to four electric motors, keeping the carbon fiber, Airbus A340-sized Solar Impuse airborne. Despite its size, Solar Impulse weighs about the same as an average car thanks to ultra-light construction techniques.
By far one of the coolest parts of the Solar Impulse mission, however, is how easy they’ve made it possible for anyone with an Internet connection to put themselves in the cockpit of the futuristic aircraft.
Visitors to SolarImpulse.com are greeted with a wide array of ways to track the flight: Live video feeds from inside and outside the aircraft give breathtaking views of Solar Impulse. There’s also a variety of digital cockpit instruments which show readings such as ground speed, heading, altitude and solar generator power — all in real-time. A Google map also tracks the aircraft’s progress on its historic mission.
How is this all possible?
According to the Solar Impulse website, the aircraft is equipped with a unique and highly complex communications system that beams a wealth of data, audio and video footage to mission control in Switzerland. That data is then sent right to the website for all the world to see. It’s a dramatic departure from Charles Lindbergh, who refused to carry even a simple radio in order to save weight during his 1927 record-setting crossing of the Atlantic.
The Solar Impulse project first began in 2003 by Piccard and Swiss pilot Andre Boschberg, who was at the helm for the aircraft’s journey from Switzerland to Spain. The plane first made history in summer of 2010 when it became the first manned solar plane to complete a 26-hour nonstop flight.