Solar plane cleared for takeoff from Nagoya for Hawaii


Staff Writer

The Solar Impulse 2 plane was set to continue its journey in the early hours of Wednesday after spending more than three weeks grounded in Nagoya because of bad weather.

A clear run was expected for the five or six days and nights needed for the solar-powered plane to reach Kalaeloa Airport near Honolulu, the team said, renewing hope that the pioneering aircraft may yet complete its round-the-world journey this year.

“We are very excited. We are here to fly, so we are happy that finally we are there,” team spokeswoman Elke Neumann said from Nagoya.

But she said there was sadness, too: “We were so welcomed here in Japan, so well-received. It’s a little bit, ‘Oh, now we have to leave again?’ It became our home.”

Approaching bad weather forced the Solar Impulse 2 to divert on June 1 to Nagoya Airport, also known as Komaki, part way through a flight from Nanjing, China, to Hawaii.

The departure from Nagoya was planned for the dead of night because the wind tends to be lower, and the airport would not be busy with jet aircraft movements, Neumann said. The Solar Impulse 2 is fragile while on the ground and sustained minor wind damage upon landing in Nagoya.

She said the team was busy Tuesday activating the plane’s satellite communications links, visiting immigration and filing plans with air traffic control.

The plane’s inflatable hangar will now be packed up to accompany the support crew to Hawaii, she said, although they would stay put until Thursday in case the aircraft develops a problem in flight.

“We have to wait in Nagoya until the point of no return,” she said, adding that a plane was waiting at Chubu Centrair International Airport near Nagoya to ferry the crew and their equipment to Hawaii — and that they would arrive before the Solar Impulse.

The project is not only the world’s first attempt to fly around the world without using a drop of fuel, it is also an experiment in solo flight for days on end. Pilot Andre Borschberg will need to fly the aircraft while napping and keeping his body warm at high altitudes.

Last Wednesday, Borschberg told The Japan Times the bad weather had eaten away at the project’s timetable and further delay could jeopardize hopes of crossing the Atlantic this year. In that case, he said, the program could be suspended and resumed next year.