Heroes

Meet the plane that's making its way around the world without using a single drop of fuel.

Modern-day Wright brothers are reinventing what it means to fly.

Imagine being able to fly from New York to London without using a single drop of fuel.

It may sound far-fetched, but that's exactly what a group of engineers and pilots are hoping to make a reality — and soon. How? Solar energy.

Meet the Solar Impulse 2, the world's most advanced solar-powered plane.

The single-passenger plane collects solar energy via panels atop its wings, storing that in four batteries located behind the pilot. This allows the plane to fly at night and, in theory, means that as long as the equipment allowed, it could go on flying, well, forever.



A lot has changed in how we've flown over the past several decades, but rarely has there been a shift like this.

Commercial passenger aircraft — which, it needs to be noted, the Solar Impulse 2 is not — have varied in size, shape, and design over time.

From the wide-bodied Boeing 747 to the narrow Boeing 737, dozens of models have rolled out in the post-World War II era, each coming with their own unique features.


The first 747 is unveiled to the public on Sept. 30, 1968. Photo by AFP/Getty Images.

The Solar Impulse 2's 236-foot wingspan is wider than that of the 747, which has a 229-foot wingspan.

While using solar power for large commercial jets would be wonderful, right now creators have more attainable goals.

In most situations, circling the globe would be a monumental accomplishment, but the makers of the Solar Impulse are on pace to making that happen.

In March 2015, pilots took off from Abu Dhabi, making stops in Oman, India, Myanmar, and China.

The team's next goal is to fly from Nanjing, China, to Hawaii. This trip, roughly 4,000 miles, will set new records for the longest distance flown by an electric plane and longest flight duration for a single pilot (over 100 hours).


From there, the team hopes to make a few stops in the U.S. before flying from New York to southern Europe/northern Africa. Then it's back to Abu Dhabi, completing the circuit.

It'll be a long time before us normal folks are able to hop a solar-powered flight, but some groups are looking into the possibility of adding hybrid engines on commercial jets.

In April 2014, Airbus announced plans for a hybrid regional plane with a capacity between 70 and 90 people.

They estimate that this type of aircraft will be ready for commercial use sometime in the next 15 to 20 years. This fuel-saving measure wouldn't have quite as much an impact as going completely solar-powered, but it's certainly a step toward a cleaner, more environmentally friendly mode of travel.

If there's one thing the Solar Impulse team is teaching us, it's that what once seemed impossible is anything but.

Like modern-day Wright brothers, the team over there is reinventing what it means to fly, and maybe within our lifetimes, we'll see some of their concepts being incorporated into mass transit.

Bloomberg put together a short video of the Solar Impulse 2 in action as it makes its way around the world.

Check it out:

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