Solar Impulse took off this morning Monday June 3rd at 04:06 AM CDT (UTC-5) from Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (TX) on its way to Lambert-St. Louis International Airport (MO). This will be Bertrand’s longest mission flight, about 21 hours, and will lead the solar airplane over Tulsa and Kansas.
It will be a challenging flight due to the devastating weather conditions this region has been experiencing in the past weeks. In fact, the latest victim of the whims of nature was Solar Impulse’s destination city, St. Louis. Last Friday, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency after violent storms, including flash floods and tornadoes that caused large-scale power outages and serious infrastructure damage. The ferocity of the storms seriously affected Lambert-St. Louis International Airport where Solar Impulse is expected to land early tomorrow morning, sometime after midnight CDT (UTC-5).
As a result, the hangar that was supposed to house the solar airplane during its Missouri stopover has been rendered inoperable. Solar Impulse has therefore decided to deploy for the first time its own inflatable hangar – a revolutionary ultra-light, very versatile structure especially intended for the flight around the world, scheduled for 2015. The hangar, made possible thanks to our Main Partner Solvay's valuable support, has never been used during missions. The team is a bit nervous but there are no other alternatives.
The hangar was designed to be of optimal weight and resistance. It is waterproof and fireproof and was built to withstand wind speeds up to 62 mph (100 km/h). It is translucent allowing sunlight to shine through, an advantage for charging the solar airplane’s batteries. It takes slightly over 4 hours to set up the main structure of the hangar, something the ground crew will be busy doing in St. Louis while awaiting the arrival of the plane, and another 2-3 hours to fully secure it.
The mobile hangar is extremely practical for a project that will be flying around the world in a solar airplane. Pilots André and Bertrand will be expected to land in remote areas that might not be equipped with infrastructure large enough to house a plane with such a large wingspan. Also, because of the lightweight of the solar airplane, it needs to be protected at all times from adverse weather conditions.
Flexibility is the modus operandi of the Solar Impulse project and, once again, something that might have initially seemed like an obstacle has turned out to be an opportunity.