Monday, June 10, 2013

Solar Impulse At St Louis

On one of the nicest evenings in recent memory in St Louis County, Solar Impulse silently eased its way to Lambert Airport from Texas.  It was a cool night without a cloud in the sky.  It was perfect.

I had just purchased a Fujifilm FinePix camera on discount from Amazon.com.  I had some initial practice with it at night from my home.  I took a couple of pictures of stars, clouds, birds, and sunrise.  The landscape was flooded with trees which served as a type of boarder anytime you look at the sky.

It was Monday evening, and I knew the plane was coming.  The local paper website, St Louis Post Dispatch, had an article saying it was on its way.  Unfortunately it would arrive right after tornadic weather hit the airport.  Even with these events in mind, I felt excited.  Pulling up the Solar Impulse website, I could track Bertrand Piccard's progression through the midwestern countryside.  He yet seemed far away.

A skilled pilot, Betrand was a member of a family of explorers.  So much so that Jean Luc Picard character in Star Trek was modeled after the twins Jean and Auguste Piccard.  Bertrand was Auguste's grandson. 

The chat on the site was active and the mood was joyous.  Much was about the ground crew was doing as seen in the live video stream.  I logged in to join the conversation, though my mind was on the things that were about to occur.

I noticed that the map showed Bertrand would fly in a holding pattern right near my home.  My mind raced.  He was still some miles out.  At around Washington he crossed the Missouri River, then followed it.  I realized he was on his way.  I sent an email to the ground crew who passes on messages to Bertrand and saying, "Smile after you cross I-64 and you follow Missouri river a bit.  I will take your picture.  Your will be flying by my home."

I employed my wife to track the craft on the net while I gathered the FinePix, binoculars, and tripod and headed outside.  My wife texted me updates, "Get ready. Plane just shift down south angle over mo river."

I scanned the skies.  There were several things out that night and the visibility was excellent.  Planes, birds, stars; it was all there.  My only worry was the tree line.  Will it allow me to see Solar Impulse at all?

Then, I made out a red light and a green light just coming slowly over the trees.  The lights were quite far apart, then I realized.  That's it.

I nervously tried to take photos of it, but it would not show up on my camera view.  I ended up pointing at it and shooting and hoping for the best.  My wife came out.

She indicated a better spot for me to shoot.  The plane was in an obvious holding pattern going round in circles.  I set up in the new spot and then I heard my wife yell.  Bertrand had put on the lights.  I think he got my email. :-))

Now it was easy to get a picture.

It looked like some kind of slow moving extraterrestrial thing in the night sky.  It was so quiet.

We later went inside and almost 2 hours later Bertrand landed at Lambert.  The news said they had to use an inflatable hangar to house the craft since the designated hangar had been damaged by tornadoes.

On Friday afternoon my wife and I went to see the plane in person.  It was in a large aluminum framed tent and several visitors were there along with the ground crew.

I got over 100 pictures in of the plane and of the posters they had around.  Its massive wingspan was tremendous.  The cockpit was open and there was a stuffed animal mascot in it.  While the basic design of the craft was not new, the materials and technologies that went into it were new.

Solar Impulse as a project was to give awareness of alternative energies.  It was the first solar plane to fly day and night without consuming any fossil fuel.  I'm very glad my wife and I got to see it.