Solar Impulse Flies and Bertrand Piccard with him

Dr. Bertrand Piccard (born 1 March 1958) is a Swiss psychiatrist and balloonist.

He was born in Lausanne, Vaud canton. His grandfather Auguste Piccard and father, Jacques Piccard, were noted balloonists and inventors.

Growing up in a ballooning and undersea-exploring family, Bertrand was always fascinated with flight.
As a child, he was taken to the launch of several space flights from Cape Canaveral. He became a hang-glider pilot and developed an interest in ultra-light motorized flight, as well as the gas balloons his grandfather had set records in.

He is a lecturer and supervisor at the Swiss Society for Medical Hypnosis.

On 1 March 1999 Piccard and Brian Jones set off in the balloon Breitling Orbiter 3 from Château d’Oex in Switzerland on the first non-stop balloon circumnavigation around the globe. They landed in Egypt after a 45,755 kilometre flight lasting 19 days, 21 hours and 47 minutes. In recognition of this accomplishment, he received awards including the Harmon Trophy, the FAI Gold Air Medal and the Charles Green Salver.

In 2004, he co-announced a project, in cooperation with the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), for a solar-powered, long-range, one-seated glider named Solar Impulse.

The project is dubbed “a great human adventure”. Piccard plans to begin construction in 2007, and conduct short test flights in 2008. He has financial and technical backing from several European firms, so it looks as if the Solar Impulse will be a European craft, not a Swiss one, despite scientific support from the EPFL. The plan is to circumnavigate the globe with several pilots in relay, flying above cloud cover during the day and at lower altitude at night sometime in 2011.

He is known for his flamboyant declarations, using expressions such as “the Invisible Hand” (la Main Invisible):

* “I went in search of new ideas blowing in the wind, to try and live better on Earth in my roles as doctor and human being.”
* “Consciousness is perceiving one’s soul.”
* “Welcome to those who believe in the power of dreams and who would like to join me in my exploration of life.”


Solar Impulse is a long-range solar plane project currently under study at the EPFL. The project is promoted by Bertrand Piccard, and aims at completely solar-powered circumnavigation.

The aircraft is intended to be a one-seater, capable of taking off autonomously, and to remain airborne for days. Once the efficiency of the batteries makes it possible to reduce the weight, a two-seater is planned to make circumnavigation possible.

Proposed timeline

* 2003: Feasibility study at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne.
* 2004-2005: Development of the concept.
* 2006: Simulation of long-haul flights.
* 2006-2007: prototype.
* 2008-2009: prototype test flights
* 2009-2010: construction of the final plane
* 2011: several-day-missions, crossing the Atlantic and trials circumnavigating the globe in five stages

Take-off is proposed for May 2011, for a flight around the world near the equator, but essentially in the northern hemisphere. Five stops are planned to change pilots. Each leg will last three to four days, limited by the physiology of the human pilot.


The wingspan of Solar Impulse will be 80 metres, slightly wider than the wingspan of an Airbus A380, in order to minimise drag and offer a maximum surface for solar cells. Such light wing loading (8 kg/m²) creates greater sensitivity to turbulence. The ultra-light structure must use customised carbon fibres.


While traditional sandwich composites have an area density in the order of 10 kg/m², those developed for Solar Impulse should weigh in the order of 0.5 kg/m². These materials could also have functionality integrated, such as integrity sensors, active control of the form, etc.

A layer of ultra-thin solar cells will be integrated to the wings. These cells are designed to be flexible enough to withstand deformations and vibrations.


Photovoltaic cells will generate electricity during the day, which will serve both to propel the plane and to recharge the batteries to allow flight at night. Energy accumulated during the day will be stored in lithium batteries in the wings, the density of which must be close to 200 Wh/kg, in spite of temperatures ranging from +80 C to –60 C.


The average power provided to the engines will be on the order of 12 hp, comparable to that of the Wright Flyer.


The cockpit will provide pressurisation, oxygen and various environmental support to the pilot to allow a cruise altitude of 12,000 metres.


The project is partially financed by private companies such as Solvay, Omega SA, Deutsche Bank, Altran and Swisscom. The EPFL, the European Space Agency (ESA) and Dassault provide technical expertise.

And today, the Solar Impulse Flies and Bertrand Piccard with him!

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