Can you fly round the world in a solar-powered aircraft, night and day? That’s what Swiss watchmaker Omega has set out to discover. And the pioneering mission is set for launch in 2011. By Søren Ignaz
The Moon was Omega’s first conquest. Now it’s the Sun. Well, not literally in the way NASA astronauts Aldrin and Armstrong first landed on the lunar surface in 1969, aided by their faithful Omega wristwatches. What the watch-making giant is envisioning is harnessing the enormous potential of solar energy in a new aviation project called Solar Impulse that is set to circumnavigate the planet using the power of the Sun. Environmental innovation Omega has always been an environmentally conscious corporation with an interest in sustainable energy. So it’s no surprise that Omega is now looking to optimise the use of solar technology in aviation. The Solar Impulse aircraft combines an enormous wingspan with a weight of just 1700 kg/ 3747 lbs – only 1/300th of the deadweight of an Airbus A340. Omega describes its Solar Impulse mission as the quest to: “Make an aircraft airborne and keep it flying day and night using solar energy to power its small propellers – entirely without fuel or pollution. An unattainable goal if it hadn’t been for the fact that the project demanded everyone involved to challenge the current boundaries of technology further than ever before.” The solar-powered aircraft has been developed for night flight using ultra-light batteries, which are charged by sunlight during daylight hours for later use during night-time propulsion, a process that follows the same energy-storing principles as in plant-world photosynthesis. At night, the batteries run four small electric engines that in turn drive the aircraft’s propellers. Making landing easy Solar Impulse was launched in 2003 and Omega has been part of the project all along. Omega, in association with former European Space Agency astronaut Claude Nicollier, has developed the cockpit instrument that allows the pilot to monitor flight conditions on two key parameters – the so-called ‘bank-angle’ and sideslip – to ensure safe landing, which takes place at just 55 kph/ 34 mph. And much like with commercial aviation, approach monitoring uses an array of blue LEDs with a green light superimposed to guide the pilot.
Sun watch Naturally, Omega celebrates its Solar Impulse mission with a commemorative watch in its pioneering Speedmaster series that includes the legendary *Omega Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch*, which played a pivotal role in all the Apollo lunar missions. The numbered-edition *Omega Speedmaster GMT “Solar Impulse”* is clearly inspired by the Solar Impulse cockpit dashboard. The 44.25 diameter dial features the aircraft’s registration code HB-SIA and an easily readable compass. The unique self-winding chronograph also features the patented Co-Axial escapement for immaculate precision and durability. “Everything impossible remains to be accomplished,” Jules Verne. Read more about Solar Impulse at HYPERLINK “http://www.solarimpulse.com” www.solarimpulse.com. Read more about OMEGA at HYPERLINK “http://www.omegawatches.com” www.omegawatches.com. Omega Milestones The first major timekeeping task carried out by Omega took place in 1909, at the Gordon Bennett Balloon Race in Schlieren near Zurich, Switzerland. The first woman to fly across the Atlantic was US pilot Amelia Earhart in 1932. She wore an Omega wrist chronograph throughout her career. The Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch is the first and only watch to be worn on the Moon. Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the Moon, wore his Speedmaster 145.012 fitted with the Omega Calibre 321 during his moonwalk on 20 July 1969. Neil Armstrong, the first man on the Moon, had left his Speedmaster inside the lunar landing module during his famous first walk. The Snoopy Award, the highest distinction of merit given by NASA astronauts, was presented to Omega in 1970 for its contribution in the rescue of the Apollo 13 crew following an onboard explosion. With only a narrow window of opportunity, Omega astronauts used their Omega Speedmaster chronographs to time their entry into Earth’s orbit with split-second precision. In 1975, the world experiences the first Apollo-Soyuz linkup in space. NASA astronauts soon discovered that the Soviet cosmonauts also wore exactly the same model of watch: the Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch. Omega ambassador Ellen MacArthur set a new solo round-the-world sailing record in 2005 onboard her 75-foot trimaran B&Q/Castorama.