What if it were possible to travel in the air without any of the toxic aviation fuel destroying our environment and worsening the climate crisis? An aircraft powered by much safer, or even renewable energy, which would satisfy a need for long-distance travel without worsening the environment?
This was something that pilot André Borschberg and long-term collaborator Bertrand Piccard have long been concerned by. And in 2016 they made history, flying an entirely solar-powered aircraft, Solar Impulse 2, around the world, “without a drop of fuel”. The only problems? The relative difficulties in flying, given the low weight of the aircraft; the cramped space inside the craft, forcing the pilots to use a built-in toilet seat; and the lack of speed.
So in 2017 Borschberg set up H55, a new company with a new fleet of all-electric planes — this time testing to see whether the battery and propulsion lessons learned through Solar Impulse 2 could be applied to a more ‘realistic’ aircraft. The current version is small, with room for only two people, but the idea is to gradually scale up until the pilots reach what Piccard says is his ultimate vision — 50 people flying commercially in an electric aircraft by 2026.
Borschberg learned to fly with the Swiss air force before earning a management science degree from MIT and setting up and selling several start-up companies. He also works as a public speaker, reflecting on overcoming challenges in the pursuit of innovation.Tags: Aviation