Dare to believe in a crazy idea
“At the start of the Solar Impulse project in 2002, there was no money, no team and no technology. It was just a crazy idea: making the first solar-powered flight around the world.” – Dr. Bertrand Piccard, Solar Impulse pioneer, president and pilot.
These words sum up the determination and faith that drove the 21st century visionary to turn his idea into a reality. They reveal the scope of the challenge that many others would have called impossible.
The impossible is a source of curiosity, innovation and success in the Piccard family. As the inventor of the first solar plane explains, “To perform and succeed, you need to step outside of your comfort zone and use your doubts and questions to stimulate creativity.”
Through their inventions, the Piccards have pushed back the frontiers of knowledge. Here’s a bit of history.
In 1931, Auguste, Bertrand’s grandfather, became the first person to enter the stratosphere in a free balloon, reaching an altitude of 16,920 metres, thanks to his principle of the sealed, pressurized cockpit.
In 1960, his son, Jacques, descended to 10,916 metres in the Mariana Trench, off the coast of the Philippines, aboard a submersible he and Auguste had designed.
Bertrand is the latest in this family of explorers and scientists. A psychiatrist, aeronaut and humanist, he has the curiosity and entrepreneurial streak of his ancestors. He became a familiar international name after his first balloon voyage in 1999. With English co-pilot Brian Jones, aboard the Breitling Orbiter, he made the first non-stop balloon trip around the world without refuelling, the longest voyage in distance and time in the history of aviation.
The fact that he almost ran out of fuel on that trip prompted him to come up with an idea for another round-the-world trip, this time aboard an aircraft powered only by solar energy. The idea for the Solar Impulse was born.
The project would require 13 years of research and development, drawing on the contribution of around 60 players. The rest is history: on July 25, Solar Impulse 2 landed in Abu Dhabi to complete its journey, with the odometer showing 40,000 km travelled without a single drop of fuel. It was a wager won for Bertrand Piccard and his partner, André Borschberg.
For Piccard, this trip around the world is about more than just technological and human prowess. “More than an exploit in the history of aviation, it’s an exploit in the history of renewable energy.” It is testimony to the fact that ecology is a source of economic opportunity, emerging from the fight against climate change.
On October 3, hear this international visionary speak as part of the Bell International Leaders series, and learn more about:
- how over 60 companies, organizations and individuals were mobilized to finance and complete this innovative project
- how to stimulate innovation on teams and find creative solutions
- clean technologies and sustainable sources of energy that can support our future growth
Fans of the Tintin comic books will be pleased to know that their author Hergé drew inspiration from Auguste Piccard for his character Professor Calculus.
Nathalie Rouiller, “La bonne altitude,” Libération, October 23, 2014.
RTS –Helveticus: Bertrand Piccard and his round the world balloon flight (video)
Bertrand Piccard: My solar-powered adventure, TED Talk, 2009.