What if airplanes could run purely on power generated from the sun? That’s what Andre Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard, co-founders of the The Solar Impulse Project wondered—and they set out to make it a reality. Their “Solar Impulse 2” is a fully “green” aircraft, built to run on energy generated from 17,000 solar cells (day and night) that are located on the wings, with a top speed of 87 MPH. The sprawling carbon-fiber plane can fly upwards of 8,500 meters in the air—an elevation rivaling that of Mount Everest.
Bertrand and Piccard are currently grounded in Japan thanks to weather issues. The pair, along with a team of weather professionals at a base camp in Monaco, have been monitoring the skies, awaiting a clear window to begin the next leg of the journey to Hawaii.
But, weather isn’t the only challenge. Preparation for the voyage, which requires mental tenacity and discipline (they’ll be cramped in a tiny cockpit measuring 3.8 cubic meters), began months before the duo of aviators hit the air. For Borschberg, that included a hardcore dedication to yoga, which he will continue to do even in the cockpit of the plane.
“He will only get 20 minutes of sleep at a time,” says Borschberg’s yoga instructor Sanjeev Bhanot. Bhanot, a lifelong yogi from Rajasthan, India and creator of Yoga Life, began teaching Borschberg the powerful effects of Yoga 10 years ago in Delhi and then in his home country of Switzerland.
“This plane is slow and he has a lot of time. He has enough space in the plane so that we could do all kinds of movements inside,” Bhanot says. “We’ve put some gadgets in where he could grasp, twist or pull so that can do his movements.”
Many of the breathing techniques and stretches that Borschberg will be using are ones that have been practiced before when he and Bhanot trained prior to the launch of the first Solar Impulse in 2010. (The first Solar Impulse plane achieved the world’s first manned 26-hour solar-powered flight and was flown by Borschberg.)
“He’s doing yoga every day and he’s very well prepared,” says Bhanot. “We do something called Nauli. You turn your stomach left to right, clockwise and counterclockwise. This is designed to improve bloating or any flatulence. When you eat and not moving enough, it becomes very challenging for digestion.”
Borschberg’s diet is prepared specifically for the climate and limited confines of the cabin. It will include cereals, risotto, and vegetable soup in self-heating packaging.
Changes in altitude, his diet, and temperature were three things Bhanot took in to consideration when advising Borschberg. The change in altitude specifically—Borschberg will be flying at his highest 8,500 meters during the day to charge the plane’s batteries and then take the aircraft down to 3,000 feet gradually—was of particular concern.
“The temperature at 8,500 meters is very low, so we had a challenge that when he sits for five days in the plane, going across the Pacific Ocean, he would not have much movement,” Bhanot says. “We don’t know how the mind and body will react to five straight days of this climbing up and down. Here, we are looking at all those areas.”
Communication will be key between all team members. For Bhanot and Borschberg, they plan on remaining in contact with each other through a satellite phone or via Google Hangout.
You can follow the progress of Borschberg and the Solar Impulse 2 here.