SS La Touraine - Wilbur's trans-Atlantic ship

Did you know the Wright-brothers-inspired Solar Impulse 2 crossed the Atlantic Ocean in record fashion?

The record? 71 hours, 8 minutes.

Not the fastest, nor the farthest, but this record will stand, because the Solar Impulse 2 was the first solar-powered aircraft to make the trip. The aircraft landed in Seville, Spain on June 23, 2016, less than three days after taking off from New York City.

The lone pilot across the Atlantic leg of the flight, “Solar Brother” Bertrand Piccard, told the Guardian, “The Atlantic is the symbolic part of the flight. It is symbolic because all the means of transportation have always tried to cross the Atlantic, the first steamboats, the first aeroplane, the first balloons, the first airships and, today, it is the first solar-powered aeroplane.”

Other famous Atlantic crossings:

Steamboat: 7 days—Wilbur Wright, 1908.
On a ‘steamboat,’ Wilbur Wright made his own transatlantic crossing. In 1908, Wilbur had the Wright Model A, a modified version of the 1905 Wright Flyer, shipped to Europe for flying demonstrations for the crowned heads of Europe. On May 21, Wilbur made his trans-Atlantic crossing aboard La Touraine, a trip that took seven days. (A year earlier, the passenger liner Mauritania set the transatlantic crossing record, making the trip across the  Atlantic in 4.5 days, a record held for 30 years.) Wilbur didn’t set any speed records crossing the Atlantic, but his flight demonstrations in 1908 and 1909 changed the hearts and minds of those who saw him first fly. The Wright brothers became the first international celebrities.

Aeroplane: 33-1/2 hours—The Lone Eagle, 1927.
The famous Atlantic-crossing, flying-milestone was performed by “The Lone Eagle,” Charles Lindberg, who made the first solo, non-stop flight across the Atlantic from New York to Paris, in The Spirit of St. Louis, on May 20–21, 1927. Although his flight took 33.5 hours, Lindberg actually went some 55 hours without sleep for the flight. At one point during his flight Lindberg dropped to buzz the surface of the Atlantic, hoping the sea spray would keep him awake.

Balloon: 137 hours—Double Eagle II, 1978.  (And this is all related.)
In 1978, a trio of Albuquerque, New Mexico, aeronauts, Maxie Anderson, Ben Abruzzo, and Larry Newman, were the first to cross the Atlantic Ocean in a balloon, traveling from Presque Isle, Maine, to Miserey, France, in 137 hours. Their helium balloon, the Double Eagle II, was designed and constructed by Ed Yost of Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Yost himself was famous for an aerial water crossing. In 1963, Ed Yost piloted the first modern hot-air balloon flight across the English Channel with crew member Don Piccard. Don Piccard was the nephew of Auguste Piccard, Bertrand Piccard’s grandfather. (Remember Bertrand Piccard? He was first to cross the Atlantic Ocean in a solar-powered airplane. He finished that June 23, 2016.)

Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg are the “Solar Brothers,” founders of Solar Impulse, setting out to achieve some impossible goals. They are currently on the first round-the-world flight in an airplane powered only by sunlight. They nicknamed themselves the “Solar Brothers” in tribute to the first family of flight, Orville and Wilbur Wright, and made sure that Dayton was a stop on their round-the-world flight in May, to honor the Wright brothers.

The Solar Impulse 2 unpressurized, unheated cockpit carries only one pilot at a time. The pilot can sleep while he’s up in the air, but usually just for 20 minutes at a time. A recent recording of one of the flights indicated a pilot took 10 catnaps of 20 minutes over a 24-hour period. Picard just finished the 71 hour flight over the Atlantic. Borschberg’s flight over the Pacific Ocean in 2015 was even longer — 117 hours and 52 minutes. All while sleeping 20 minutes at a time, in a plane powered by the sun.

Solar Impulse is demonstrating that the sun can provide the energy for flight—even for flying at night. It’s seems an impossible task.

The world’s first flight seemed to be an impossible task. It took the ingenuity, perseverance, and courage of two brothers from Dayton to show the world that man would fly.

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