The lecture commenced with a short video that featured the two pioneering pilots of Solar Impulse talking about their passion for flying around the world without spending a drop of fuel. The film then moved to show the different cities that Solar Impulse landed in after taking off from Abu Dhabi. The plane flew 40,000 kilometres around the world, fully fuelled by sunlight.
Piccard, the initiator and Chairman of the Solar Impulse Project, said, "Solar Impluse was initiated to show a new vision for technology. How can we inspire people and governments to be cleaner and more profitable. The world of aviation is an inspiring one, that’s why in our view an airplane serves to inspire the people. The Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi was our biggest supporter, he told us, ‘You have to fly it from here’ even before we had an airplane."
Aviation experts were quick to dismiss their flight as impossible, given how much solar energy could be captured and how much an average airplane needed to get off the ground. So the pilots shifted the paradigm, and focused on energy efficiency rather than consumption. It took some time, but ultimately the motors on Solar Impulse reached 97 percent efficiency, more than three times as efficient as most combustion engines. All this with a plane whose wingspan exceeded that of a Boeing 747, yet remained lighter than a family car.
Speaking about the challenges they faced, Piccard said changing paradigms was the most important thing when it comes to introducing new ideas and getting people to believe in them.
On the role of media, Borschberg said, "This project would have not worked without the media interest." He said that included traditional as well as new and social media. "When you have a solar airplane that has a 72-meter wing span, that is beautiful, then it has an impact we had billions and billions of media impressions," Borschberg said.
Responding to a question about what it takes to be a pioneer, Borschberg said one needs a combination of curiosity, perseverance and respect. "Inside of us, we have so much potential. This is important in adventure, which is that confidence is very important." He said education should be about teaching kids to be explorers not just feed them information.
On spreading a culture of pioneering and innovation, Piccard said, "It takes leading by example more than management, in management you tell what to do, in leadership, you tell people why to do it. The late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan was a great leader who explained to people why they need to do things." Borschberg said, "You have to accept the possibility to fail, that’s important because this is the way to knowledge." He said an electric-fired plane that transports about 50 people will be feasible in less than 10 years.
The lecture is part of Majlis Mohamed bin Zayed’s Ramadan series of lectures, which are delivered by renowned scholars and thought leaders as well as senior officials on their expertise in different knowledge areas. The series reflects His Highness’s deep appreciation of knowledge and the need to proliferate it.