Solar-Powered Plane Takes Off for Historic Round-the-World Trip
Solar Impulse 2, the first solar airplane able to sustain flight at night with a pilot on board, took off today from Abu Dhabi, heading east to the Omani capital, Muscat. Over the next five months, if all goes to plan, the plane will go from continent to continent, crossing both the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans. The plane will stop to receive maintenance and, during that time, the project's backers, which include Richard Branson and Robert Swan, will spread awareness about renewable technologies.
The launch of the project was announced in November 2003, almost exactly a century after the Wright brothers’ historic flight. The team began work soon after that. The plane went on its first test flights in 2010, and in July of that year, it made the first night flight in the history of solar aviation, lasting more than 26 hours. It took progressively longer flights, including a trip across the U.S., leading up to this trip.
Before taking off, pilot Andre Borschberg told BBC News: "I am confident we have a very special aeroplane, and it will have to be to get us across the big oceans." Monday's leg to Oman will cover about 250 miles and take an estimated 12 hours, according to the BBC. Its average speed will only be about 43 miles per hour, hence the long flight time. It may not be breaking any records for speed, but it has already broken many records (basically, anytime it does anything it sets a record), and if it's successful, it will be the first solar powered plane to circumnavigate the globe.
It is not at all certain Solar Impulse will be a success. The plane's team is worried about ocean crossings, which will be very weather-dependent. The 21,747-mile trip, which is expected to take about four months, will be split into 12 legs. The trips across the ocean will take almost six days, putting quite a mental and physical strain on the pilots. The cockpit is only 3.8 cubic meters in size and the pilots are only allowed to take 20-minute naps.
Nevertheless, this is a very exciting moment for solar, which could be the largest source of electricity by 2050, according to a report from last fall by the International Energy Agency. It's a dream come true for the plane's other pilot, Bertrand Piccard, who will rotate with Borschberg. "I had this dream 16 years ago of flying around the world without fuel, just on solar power," Piccard told BBC News. "Now, we're about to do it. The passion is there and I look forward so much to being in the cockpit."
The Solar Impulse team hopes the projects can be "implemented in daily life, for cars or for heating systems or for the construction of houses," Piccard told National Geographic. "All the technology exists; we should use it much more in our daily life.”
Watch the plane take off in Abu Dhabi:
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By Naomi Larsson
For centuries, the delicate silver dove has been a symbol of love and fidelity.
Biodiversity and Habitat Loss<p>Their near extinction is a symbol of the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/global-biodiversity-outlook-targets-extinction-summit-new-york-pledge/a-54932895" target="_blank">biodiversity crisis</a> in the UK, largely driven by habitat destruction. Britain is now one of the countries with the most <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/future-of-UK-nature#:~:text=The%20UK%20is%20one%20of,than%20half%20are%20in%20decline" target="_blank">depleted nature</a> in the world according to the World Wildlife Fund. Half its plant and animal species are in decline and more than <a href="https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/let-nature-sing-wales/#:~:text=a%20natural%20tragedy.-,Over%2040%20million%20birds%20have%20vanished%20from%20UK%20skies%20in,unaware%20of%20the%20impending%20danger" target="_blank">40 million birds</a> have vanished in just half a century.</p><p>"[Turtle doves] are the canary in the [coal] mine because there are all these other species before it and after it," said Tree. "It's an umbrella for all the other species that are heading that way."</p><p>Turtle doves migrate south through Europe to sub-Saharan Africa between July and September, ending up in dry woodland and farmland areas of countries like Mali and Senegal for winter. </p><p>Droughts in West Africa and the Sahel region are believed to have contributed to the fall in turtle dove species recorded in northern Europe, with low rainfall reducing supplies of the seeds and insects the birds rely on for energy for the long journey home.</p>
Conservation and Farming<p><a href="https://www.operationturtledove.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Operation Turtle Dove,</a> a partnership project of charities including the Essex Wildlife trust, works with landowners and farmers to actively build turtle dove habitat.</p><p>Outten works with <a href="https://www.ebws.org.uk/birdsites/blue-house-farm-ewt-north-fambridge" target="_blank">Blue House Farm</a>, a 660-acre nature reserve in the UK county of Essex, where they have replicated weedy fallow plots. </p><p>"We work on it every year to make sure it's in the condition it needs to be with plants such as clovers and black medic," Outten said. "These plants are native to the landscape and produce the seed the birds feed on." </p><p>The birds eat a wide range of seeds from various plants that would have been abundant 50 or 100 years ago, added Guy Anderson, program manager for species recovery with The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). </p><p>"But it's simply true that with the gradual process of <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/farming-without-pesticides-how-can-we-make-agriculture-greener/a-52216796" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">intensifying our agricultural production</a>, the availability of those seeds has dropped and dropped," said Anderson.</p><p>Part of the project includes supplementary feeding — providing sources of food in the form of seed or grain. Under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme in England, farmers can receive financial support to create a turtle dove habitat. </p><p>Though they haven't recorded an increase in doves across the sites in the four years of working on the project, Outten said they are seeing improvements in how landowners and farmers manage habitat for the birds. </p>
A Turtle Dove Haven<p>The 3,500-acre Knepp Estate in West Sussex is another project taking a different approach and one of the few places where turtle dove numbers are increasing.</p><p>Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell converted their intensively farmed land into a rewilding project almost 20 years ago. They have let the land return to nature.</p><p>Just one year after they'd finished <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/uks-most-talented-architects-are-not-human/a-35952128" target="_blank">rewilding</a> the southern part of their property, they heard turtle doves for the first time. It's now a breeding hotspot for the birds with an estimated 19 pairs. Knepp is also home to <a href="https://www.rewildingbritain.org.uk/rewilding/rewilding-projects/knepp-estate" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2% of the UK's population</a> of nightingales. </p><p>Tree is critical of supplementary feeding schemes that, in her view, are short term. She questions the chances of turtle doves getting to feed on scattered seeds before other mammals eat them first.</p>
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