BY DAN REYNOLDS
Talk to Swiss pilot Andre Borschberg and you are talking to someone in the league of a Thor Heyerdahl or a Roald Amundsen.
Norway's Heyerdahl built a balsa wood log raft and sailed it from South America to Polynesia in 1947 to defend one of his scientific theories.
His countryman Amundsen discovered the South Pole in 1911 and led the first undisputed mission to the North Pole in 1926.
Borschberg is taking turns with his countryman, Bertrand Piccard, to pilot Solar Impulse, the first solar-powered plane to fly across the United States.
The plane, which seats one, has two propellers and is self-powered on takeoff.
It left Mountain View, Calif. on May 3, and is expected to arrive in New York in early July. The plane flies at an average of 40 mph.
Solar Impulse weighs about as much as the average car and is powered by more than 11,500 solar cells on its 208 foot-wide wingspan and horizontal stabilizer. A key goal of the project is to demonstrate the viability of renewable energy sources.
The project is Piccard's brainchild, and has been in the works since 2003. Piccard, a psychiatrist and the chairman of Solar Impulse, is an established aviator and international figure, having captained the first around-the-world balloon flight in 1999 and having won the Chrysler Challenge, the first transatlantic balloon race in 1992.
Risk & Insurance®, aided by a satellite connection, spoke to Borschberg on June 14 as he flew from St. Louis to Cincinnati.
"Touch wood, cross my fingers, but the plane is doing great," Borschberg told us from the cockpit that afternoon, where he was experiencing mostly clear skies and good flying conditions above the Midwest.
Borschberg, co-founder and CEO of the Solar Impulse project, spoke of the great responsibility he feels being entrusted to the controls of the plane, the exhilaration that helps him endure flights of as many as 20 hours straight and the warm reception the Solar Impulse team has gotten here in the United States.
"People are so enthusiastic about a new project, new innovation, new ideas. For me that is maybe not a surprise but was really, really impressive," Borschberg said.
An international team of scientists is helping to bring this dream to life, the ultimate goal of which is an around-the-world flight in 2015.
The scientific effort is centered at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland, and more than 80 companies have made investments to give wings to the dream. Frankfurt-based Deutsche Bank, the Belgian chemical company Solvay S.A., Swiss watchmaker Omega SA and Swiss elevator maker Schindler are major partners.
This magazine's interest, of course, is that insurance also plays a part here. For not only is insurance coverage a modifier of behavior, it is also an enabler of dreams.
The sole insurance provider for the Solar Impulse project is Swiss Re Corporate Solutions, which is providing aircraft liability, hull and crew personal accident insurance. According to Swiss Re, the insured value of the plane is about $9.1 million.
The insurer said it plans to remain affiliated with the project and help it achieve its around-the-world goal.
Part of the draw in flying Solar Impulse across the United States was for the project team to experience varied weather conditions.
The Midwest delivered, unleashing a tornado that damaged the hangar set aside for the plane during its stop in St. Louis. The team used an inflatable hangar there instead.
"That was one of the goals of the flight here across America was to be exposed to different weather systems, different conditions, different from the ones experienced in Europe and North Africa," Borschberg said.
Despite hour after hour in a cramped cockpit, Borschberg's love for the project comes through, even via satellite communication.
"We are really passionate about the work that we are doing. We are passionate about flying and when you truly like what you are doing, you have a different kind of energy," Borschberg said.
"I think the other part, of course, is that flying is a wonderful way to look at the earth and see the beauty of it and so when you fly, you are captivated by that," Borschberg said.
"It can be by day, it can be by night. It can be at sunset, it can be at sunrise, so all of this makes this trip truly memorable," he said.
is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance®
June 17, 2013
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