My Rendezvous with Solar Impulse 2

Getting a chance to do a cover story about Solar Impulse 2 and its historic round-the-world flight was like Christmas morning plus my birthday.
My Rendezvous with Solar Impulse 2

If you didn’t follow Solar Impulse 2 during the last segments of its round-the-world flight, you truly missed out. Go to www.Solarimpulse.com, and read our cover story in the newly redesigned SWE Magazine, coming in late August.

ROAD TRIP!

By Seabright McCabe, SWE Contributor

Solar Impulse 2
The earlier landing in Phoenix looked similar to what we saw in Dayton. It was like watching the future come in. Photo credit: Courtesy Solar Impulse

“Want to go see a landing?”

Getting a chance to do a cover story about Solar Impulse 2 and its historic round-the-world flight was like Christmas morning plus my birthday. Crazy good.

Even better, the plane’s next landing would be in Dayton, Ohio, only 3.5 hours from where I’m based in greater Cleveland.

“Are you kidding me?!” I said to SWE Magazine’s intrepid editor, Anne Perusek. “Let’s go!”

I picked her up and off we went, geeking out all the way. Winds were gusting, and that’s exactly what you don’t want for an ultralight plane with a 236-foot wingspan, solar or not. Crosswinds were reported, which make landings devilish hard to control.

Dayton Airport
Arriving at the foot of this futuristic air traffic control tower, we knew we were in for something special. (Dayton International Airport) Photo credit: Seabright McCabe

As evening fell, we reached Dayton International. At the foot of its surreal-looking air traffic control tower, the air was dead calm. We scanned the horizon, looking for the plane. “Which runway do you think?” I said. “I don’t know. I don’t see it, do you?” Anne said.

The media liaison assigned to take us to the runway smiled, and said two words.

“Look up.”

I did — and nearly fell over. Solar Impulse 2, the first solar airplane capable of round-the-world flight on zero fuel, was directly over my head. Impossibly wide wings, brilliant LEDs on their leading edges, moving so slowly it seemed to hover. It looked like something I’d report as a UFO if I didn’t know better.

Professional writers are supposed to be all “just the facts, ma’am,” but I was hard pressed not to jump up and down like a kid. Before I knew it, we were on a shuttle bus to the runway.

There, in a scrum of shivering reporters and a few local dignitaries (this being Dayton, home of the Wright brothers, Orville and Wilbur’s great-grandniece and great-grandnephew, Amanda and Stephen Wright, were in the group), we watched it turn on final approach.

When an aircraft this size is about to land, you expect the shriek of engines — but Solar Impulse was hardly louder than those balsa wood, rubber-band-propeller gliders my brother and I used to play with. Barely a whisper. That’s what clean technology sounds like — eerily quiet.

As it touched down, all watching burst into cheers. Crew lining the runway sprinted toward the wings — several more chased on electric bikes. Handling masts support the wings, and the bikes are in case the crew can’t run fast enough to get to their assigned spots. Those bikes can jump to 40 mph at the touch of a button on the grip.

Solar Impulse 2
Si2 on the tarmac at Dayton, ready for its closeup. Photo Credit: Seabright McCabe

Twenty minutes later, at the enormous mobile hangar, there was a press conference. The plane, immaculate, not a bug on its super-lightweight polycarbonate windshield, was posed at a perfect angle. I shook hands with Bertrand Piccard, one of the plane’s two pilots and the first to circumnavigate the globe in a balloon.

And that was just the start. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a young woman standing under the wing. I poked the media rep — “That’s Paige Kassalen, isn’t it? Can you ask her to come over?”

We hear you read only 300 words at a time. If you got this far, tell us you want more! Check back for the next installment of this blog, and SWE Magazine’s exclusive tour of Si2’s one-of-a-kind, inflatable, mobile hangar. Read our cover story in the newly redesigned SWE Magazine, coming in late August. Read Anne Perusek’s Solar Impulse 2 blog post here.