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Solar Impulse pilots complete test in preparation for the round-the-world flight

André Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard shake hands after Bertrand successfully completes the 72 hour flight simulation. Courtesy photo

Flying around the world in a flight simulation for 72 hours straight, Bertrand Piccard remains focused on the task at hand.  Courtesy Photo
Flying around the world in a flight simulation for 72 hours straight, Bertrand Piccard remains focused on the task at hand. Courtesy Photo

Dübendorf (ZH, Switzerland) – At 08.00 am (local time) Dec. 20, Bertrand Piccard completed the 72 hour non-stop flight simulation begun three days earlier in Dübendorf. After André Borschberg in 2012, Bertrand confronted the human challenge of very long flights and drew many lessons in preparation for the first round-the-world flight in 2015.

Installed in a full scale mock-up of the aircraft currently in the final phase of construction for the round the world attempt, Bertrand Piccard took up the challenge of staying at the controls of the flight simulator for an uninterrupted period of 72 hours needed for a virtual crossing of the Atlantic; this was made possible by the computer models built by the engineers at Altran.

To draw all the lessons from this experiment and measure the mental and physical condition of the pilot in real time, a whole battery of tests was performed by the Solar Impulse team in cooperation with experts in a range of different fields. Fatigue, cockpit ergonomics, nutrition, use of the toilet, exercises to prevent thrombosis, vigilance and the ability to pilot the aircraft in a state of sleep deprivation were all assessed.

“This experiment provided vital training for the round the world flight, while at the same time highlighting the extreme difficulty of this venture.” explained Bertrand Piccard (Initiator, Chairman and Pilot of Solar Impulse). Exiting the simulator with a smile he added, “Seeing so many doctors around the Solar Impulse reminded me of my first profession, although this time round I was the patient.”

During the simulation, Bertrand Piccard used self-hypnosis techniques to remain alert, manage his fatigue and sleep. Two of his hypnotherapist colleagues monitored the simulation and helped to answer the many questions put by the public on the social networks. Bertrand went into episodes of hypnotic trance to stimulate his activity, fall asleep or wake up faster. Over the 72 hour period, he rested 35 times for a period of 20 minutes on a seat specially developed by Lantal, a Swiss company which is a technology leader in aircraft seats.

The EPFL researchers monitored the pilot’s physiological data using solutions which are habitually reserved for laboratories. The encephalogram and electrocardiogram data will be analyzed and correlated with the outcomes of the vigilance and reaction time tests by the Hirslanden physicians and will play a key role in defining a rest strategy for the pilot during the round the world flight.

André Borschberg (Co-founder, CEO and Pilot of Solar Impulse) followed Bertrand Piccard throughout the experiment.

André Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard shake hands after Bertrand successfully completes the 72 hour flight simulation. Courtesy photo
André Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard shake hands after Bertrand successfully completes the 72 hour flight simulation.
Courtesy photo

“The team is on the point of finalizing the second aircraft which will have a theorically infinite range,” Borschberg said. “Now the challenge is to make the pilot as ‘enduring’ as the aircraft! We must learn to manage our own energy, to be able to recognize the point at which fatigue is gaining the upper hand and find solutions to remain alert and vigilant.”

The personalized dietary strategy developed by Nestlé Health Science has proved appropriate in terms of both nutrition and taste. To respond to the constraints caused by temperature and pressure variations in the cockpit, Nestlé Health Science has developed several different packaging solutions which Bertrand Piccard has been able to test.

After this successful response to the challenge, the two pilots can now focus on the final phase of preparation for their round the world flight. The next 18 months will be a period of intense activity for the Solar Impulse team. Final assembly of the new aircraft in Payerne (VD, Switzerland) will begin in February 2014. The presentation of this second prototype in April will be followed by a program of test flights and training at the aerodrome in Payerne. The aircraft and pilots should be ready to take off on the successive legs of their solar-powered round the world flight beginning in March 2015.