• August 4, 2016

    Now Boarding: Your 40-Day Flight to California

    Heath Knakmuhs

Air travel remains one of the most transformative inventions of the 20th Century.  Though people centuries ago long dreamed of taking to the sky like birds, it was not until 1914 when commercial aviation was born.  While air travel was initially restricted to the very rich, with very limited availability, speedy and economical commercial flights are now a ubiquitous part of modern society. 

We now take for granted the ability to fly across the country in under 6 hours, and around the world in less than a day.  However, fast and reliable commercial air travel depends upon one key ingredient to make sure that we get from point A to point B:  jet fuel

That may soon become a problem.  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on July 25 declaredthat the unavoidable greenhouse gas emissions that necessarily accompany air travel must be curtailed, and that the EPA plans to move forward with GHG emissions limitations for aircraft that are equal to or even more stringent than international standards.  Just as occurred with respect to the EPA’s broadly opposed power plant regulations, the EPA’s aviation endangerment finding serves as a necessary precursor to subsequent bureaucratic efforts to reconfigure America’s airline industry.  

No doubt, these new regulations will be applauded by the folks that put together the Democratic National Committee’s new platform.  The platform, crafted by supporters of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, declares that the nation must be run “entirely on clean energy by mid-century.”  That means eliminating fossil fuels completely in the next 33 years.  Lest you think that the platform is just an academic exercise, remember that in her acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention,Clinton said “we wrote it together.  Now let’s go make it happen together.” 

So, what does air travel without jet fuel look like?  Well, we recently got a glimpse.  

In what would appear, upon first glance, to be good news for the Democratic Platform’s lofty mandate, on July 25 the Solar Impulse 2 airplane completed its 25,000 mile journey around the world using only solar power to motivate its flight.  Pretty impressive –– until you dig into the details behind this effort. 

This plane took off on its journey on March 9, 2015.  It’s around the world journey concluded on July 25, 2016.  Yes – that’s right – it took 504 days!

OK.  Fair enough.  Flying around the globe is a mighty long way, and rarely do we ever purchase a ticket to do so.  Thus, let’s look at some shorter segments of this solar trip.

Just counting flight time, the Solar Impulse 2 spent 15 hours and 52 minutes to fly from Silicon Valley to Phoenix.  Phoenix to Tulsa, Oklahoma took more than 18 hours.  Tulsa to Dayton, Ohio wasanother 16 hours and 34 minutes, while the two final legs between Dayton and New York City took a combined 21.5 hours.  Thus, the total flight time for the trip from Silicon Valley to New York City wasonly 72 hours and 6 minutes!  Total travel time for this cross-country trip tallied in at 40 days!  The Concorde, it was not. 

Why so slow?  Well, for one, the plane averaged between 28 and 56 miles per hour on its trip.  Thus, even occasional rush hour traffic would make driving across the country a less time-consuming option. 

And we haven’t yet mentionedthe 298 day delay in Hawaii to change out the plane’s overheated batteries.  When was the last time you had to rent an apartment to wait out a flight delay? 

One more thing:  this revolutionary solar plane has the capacity to transport just one person – the pilot.  Thus, if you want to fly on this carbon-free plane of the future, you need to first obtain your pilot’s license in order to do so.

Don’t get us wrong.  The Solar Impulse 2, its crew, and its supporters should be applauded for completing a feat that had never before been accomplished – circumnavigating the globe in a plane powered only by the sun.  However, the incredible timeframe of this trip also demonstrates that we are a long, LONG way from eliminating fossil fuels from our economy.

So, the next time you incur a brief flight delay on a weekend getaway, remember that things could be getting a whole lot worse.