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Solar Impulse Round-the-World Plane Waits Out a Wall of Weather in Japan

A wall of weather is keeping the Solar Impulse 2 airplane from resuming its round-the-world, fuel-free odyssey, one of the pilots says.
Image: Solar Impulse 2
Concerns about the weather over the Pacific are keeping the Solar Impulse 2 plane grounded in Japan, one of its pilots says.Solar Impulse

TOKYO — A wall of weather is keeping Solar Impulse 2, the solar-powered plane which is on a mission to circumnavigate the globe without fuel, from embarking on the next leg of its journey, according to one of the plane's pilots.

"The front we have from Taiwan to Alaska, physically it's like a wall," Swiss businessman and adventurer Andre Borschberg, who is CEO and co-founder of the Solar Impulse project, told reporters on Thursday during a Tokyo news conference. “Because with this airplane we cannot fly through the front — it's too rainy, it's too bumpy — it will be too dangerous."

The multi-stage adventure began in March in Abu Dhabi, with quick stops in Oman, India and Myanmar. But when the plane and its support crew reached China, they had to wait out the weather for more than a month. On May 30, Borschberg started out from Nanjing for what was expected to be a six-day trip to Hawaii — but after 44 hours, the plane was diverted to Nagoya in central Japan due to concerns about the weather.

The point of the months-long odyssey is to demonstrate environmentally friendly technologies, such as the thousands of solar cells that generate all the power Solar Impulse 2 needs for flight. But the total reliance on solar power, and the lightness of its carbon-fiber structure, mean the plane has to travel slowly and carefully.

Bertrand Piccard, the project's other pilot and co-founder for the project, posted a YouTube video on Wednesday describing how the staff was closely monitoring the meteorological conditions, and provided his own explanation for why the team is patiently waiting for the next flight opportunity.

"Eighty years ago, maybe we would have done like some of the pioneers, like Amelia Earhart," Piccard said. "That means taking off without knowing what would happen and disappear. ... Today we don't want to be daredevils. It would be stupid. We have the tools to make it in a safer way."