2016 is the year of the solar flight pioneer

The Eraole and the Solar Impulse 2 are setting records under harsh conditions.

This June, a French pilot will attempt the first zero-carbon flight across the Atlantic Ocean. His trusty steed, The Eraole, is a lightweight hybrid airplane is powered by solar energy and algal biofuels made specifically for this journey. The pilot, Raphaël Dinelli, is a French scientist and adventurer who is no stranger to feats of endurance. He's a four-time winner of the Vendée Globe race, in which competitors sail solo around the world.

For this newest escapade, Dinelli will be behind the yoke of a glider-like airplane equipped with photovoltaic panels on it wings. The energy of our nearest star will be providing 25 percent of the energy requirements for the trans-Atlantic voyage. Another 55 percent comes from the aforementioned algal biofuels. Nature will take care of the rest, as the remaining 20 percent of the energy needed for 60-hour aerial journey from North America to France will come from riding the wind currents high above the sea.

Not to be outdone, the Solar Impulse 2 has already begun an even more daunting solar-powered journey: a 100-percent solar-powered trip around the world. Two Swiss pilots – psychiatrist and balloonist Bertrand Piccard, as well as businessman and fighter pilot André Borschberg – are sharing the duties behind the yoke as they skip from location to location around the globe, beginning and ending in Abu Dhabi.

As with any true adventure, the unexpected can and does happen, as Piccard and Borschberg found out while crossing the Pacific Ocean. The second half of their trip had to be postponed, as the plane is stranded in Hawaii awaiting a replacement for its overheated battery. The Solar Impulse 2 is expected to lift off again in April.

As things are currently scheduled, the Eraole will be the first of the two to cross the Atlantic, which grants it the honor of first zero-carbon trans-Atlantic flight, but that does nothing to diminish Solar Impulse's incredible feat of traversing the globe using no fuel but the sun. For the pilots alone, the endeavor is a taxing one, as they must attempt to match the lasting endurance of the plane, but with no cabin pressure or heat. The pilots of each plane will have to bear multiple days at a time cramped in their cockpits under these harsh conditions.

For all three pilots of both planes, these adventures will be huge accomplishments, but they're not just doing it for themselves. The world is benefitting from these pioneers, who hope to change the way we look at energy and air travel. Raphaël Dinelli puts it plainly: "People investigating non-carbon flight are no longer seen as a bunch of eccentric dreamers."

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