Gallery: Aloha, Solar Impulse!
The Solar Impulse plane landed in Hawaii early this morning after four days and 22 hours in the air, solo pilot Andre Borschberg breaking the world record for the longest solo non-stop flight. But what made the journey more remarkable was that the trip was made without burning a single drop of fuel, as the SI2 aircraft was powered entirely by the sun.
I’ve written quite a bit already about the Solar Impulse, and today’s landing has made headlines around the world. The Solar Impulse team also does a spectacular job posting its own updates to the Solar Impulse website and across social media. You can even watch the entire five-hour landing sequence on YouTube, or just this short 90-second video fist-bump:
My daughter and I were also lucky enough to attend today’s historic landing and formal Solar Impulse press conference, so I wanted to share my experience as well. But I’ve also been up since 3 a.m. this morning, so words are starting to fail me.
Fortunately, if a picture is worth a thousand words, you can find the equivalent of 184,000 words in my Solar Impulse in Hawaii photo album on Flickr. That’s 184 photos, most taken with my humble iPhone (occasionally to the amusement and dismay of the professional journalists in attendance), and a few dozen snapped with a Sony CyberShot that benefits from a zoom lens.
I invite you to check out the entire, possibly exhausting gallery for the complete picture of today’s events. But here are some of my favorite shots and moments:
Kalaeloa Airport and the UH-managed Hangar 3 were opened to media and invited guests at 3 a.m. this morning. I wasn’t there when they opened up the gate, but my daughter and I were still among the first couple of dozen people to arrive.
At that early hour, they were still setting everything up, and for a time, we were able to wander around inside the hangar. We were offered coffee, water and pastries, and chatted with the ground team. Katie had a special conversation with Ela Borschberg, daughter of pilot Andre Borschberg, testing out her high school French language skills.
Ela said that during the long flight, they kept the livestream running on a laptop in the kitchen, and the sound of her father’s breathing was a constant presence. She could sense even a subtle change in tempo and know when he was trying to sleep, or working on something.
The SI2 had actually reached Honolulu last night, and had spent hours in a holiding pattern offshore. Before dawn, illuminated by a nearly full moon, we could see the aircraft circling in the distance. After a lot of milling around and talking story with a lot of local, national, and international journalists, a number of us were led onto a pair of buses to be brought out to the runway to get a better view of the SI2 landing.
While it was a challenge to keep the press corralled in its designated patch of runway, everyone settled into a good spot. By this point the intense energy of the moment was practically crackling through the air, the excitement fueled by the proud members of the Solar Impulse team around us.
The plane made a couple of overhead passes, and everyone trained their video and still cameras at the sky. (I couldn’t resist snapping a selfie.) The massive wingspan of the SI2 was already impressive, but at the same time, the relatively delicate build of the aircraft was also obvious. At times the aircraft seemed to almost hover in place, as if it was as light as a feather.
Finally we were told that the SI2 was on final approach. The Solar Impulse team members around us started to cheer and yell (mostly in French). The plane slowly swooped into position over the runway as a helicopter hovered nearby, documenting the arrival from the air.
As the SI2 floated gently to the ground, a pair of crewmembers on bicycles pedaled under each wing to eventually support them while the plane was on the ground. Support and emergency vehicles soon surrounded the plane, and the press was herded back onto the buses to return to the hangar.
By the time we were back at Hangar 3, the place was packed with journalists, guests, and government officials. My daughter and I disembarked from the buses as quickly as we could and nabbed a good spot right on the flightline. But as the SI2 started to approach from the distance, were were mobbed on all sides.
Everyone wanted to get the shot (and a decent shot at an early interview), and it was interesting watching the media ballet unfold. International press were granted a lot of leeway, leaving a lot of local journalists stepping all over each other. Most people were either cordial or at least politely pushy, but some gruff pros clearly knew that the only way to get the best spot was to commandeer it. As a lowly blogger with a smartphone, I was mostly deferential.
Katie ended up crouching under someone’s tripod.
The SI2’s journey to the hangar was people powered, a crowd of crew members guiding or following it along the last hundred yards. By now, someone was almost always cheering or clapping. After weeks of delays and a harrowing trans-Pacific flight, the Solar Impulse team was very, very happy to be finally welcoming Andre and the plane to Hawaii.
Once the SI2 was positioned outside the hangar, the celebration really began. Andre Borschberg’s first visitors were officials with customs and the state Department of Agriculture. (He did come from Japan, after all.) He was then checked out by his medical team, one of whom gave each of his legs a long and thorough massage. Before he even got up from the cockpit, though, a long line of dignitaries and sponsors climbed a ladder to his side to greet him and take photos.
Finally, though, Bertrand Piccard helped him to his feet to the loudest cheers of all. “It’s good to be in Hawaii!” Borschberg yelled more than once before finally stepping onto solid ground.
Andre Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard were pulled in different directions for welcomes and hugs, and they were presented with a giant lei from the Hawaii Pa’u Riders. Finally, though, it was time to walk the line of journalists, who by this point were ready to pounce.
Not surprisingly, the BBC reporter snared them first, and all the other media were left to capture what they could of that first conversation. The next interview was in French, and the one after that was in French. I think.
But they did move down the line a few more times, and local TV news crews got their clips as well. The Hawaii reporters were mostly and understandably curious about the pilots’ plans while they were in Hawaii.
The Solar Impulse crew rolled the SI2 into the hangar, and the pilots and their entourage followed. The doors were closed, and perhaps Andre Borschberg was able to get some rest while the team prepared for the official press conference. There was fortunately enough time to go back home to rest a bit before returning to Kalaeloa.
When we returned to the airport, we were able to enter the hangar and get a closer look at the SI2. It was amazing to stand under one end of one wing, knowing that it was more than 72 meters to the other end… wider than a Boeing 747. On top of the wings, more than 17,000 solar cells.
We could also see the small cockpit where Andre Borschberg spent more than four days, sleeping no more than 20 minutes at a time.
Despite its impressive size, the carbon fiber SI2 only weighs about as much as a car.
Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell was among the local dignitaries to congratulate the Solar Impulse team on its historic flight.
Hawaii Governor David Ige declared July 3 “Solar Impulse Day,” and noted that he had worked in the very same hangar as an engineering student at the University of Hawaii.
Other special guests included Martin Dahinden (Swiss Ambassador to the U.S.), UH President David Lassner, Sen. Mike Gabbard, and Sen. Will Espero. Of course, several Solar Impulse sponsors were given a chance to say a few words.
One fitting sponsor was Moët & Chandon champagne, which provided the critical supplies for the day’s final toast.
What a day. Now for some rest. Want to see all the photos? Click here.
The Solar Impulse team announced tonight that the hangar will be open to the public on Sunday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. For more information on the Solar Impulse mission, visit SolarImpulse.com, connect with @SolarImpulse on Twitter, on Facebook, on Google+, and of course on YouTube.
Bonus: Uploaded a few video clips that I also captured at the scene to YouTube.