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Swiss Cowboys: Solar Aviation, Bagpipes, and Akon

David Blue
Written by David Blue

I’ve just watched Bertrand Pic­card climb out of his strange, spon­sor-spat­tered air­craft along with some 10,000 oth­er YouTube view­ers and pro­claim — with­out fatigue, some­how, after dwelling in his ultra-Swiss sky pod for this last 49-hour leg — “…an achieve­ment in the his­to­ry of ener­gy. We have trav­eled 40,000 kilo­me­ters with­out fuel. Now it’s your turn to take it fur­ther.”
[mks_pullquote align=“left” width=“300” size=“20” bg_color=”#dddddd” txt_color=”#891f1f”]“We should nev­er accept that the world should be pol­lut­ed only because peo­ple are scared to think in anoth­er way.”[/mks_pullquote]
Co-pio­neer and alter­nate pilot, André Borschberg stands oppo­site on the ele­vat­ed plat­form after starchi­ly open­ing the hatch to a rather solemn tune, wisped from a french horn off-cam­era. Rather dis­turbing­ly, I notice his eerie resem­blance to Charles Nungess­er. George Saun­ders would write por­traits; I’ll just embed a Tweet:


Per­haps I am the only to won­der; per­haps this is some sort of con­spir­a­cy thought by its pro­po­nents to be long after the dis­ap­pear­ance of the two extrav­a­gant French­men over the North Atlantic had been for­got­ten.

Per­haps good ole’ Chuck’s soul final­ly found rest today, live on YouTube.

At least Pic­card looks absolute­ly noth­ing like François Coli. In their wrin­kles and orange cause jack­ets, the pair do indeed wax the jovial French air­men trope. But they are not air­men. In fact, they’re not even avi­a­tors. They are vision­ar­ies (a term not asso­ci­at­ed with avi­a­tion for decades.) Accord­ing to the pub­lic, they are a bal­loon­ing Swiss psy­chi­a­trist and a fly­ing Swiss busi­ness­man. They are “explor­ers: two ambas­sadors for a clean future.” No doubt, they are men of their time.


Post-flight pho­to op cap­tured from Solar Impulse’s live stream.

[mks_pullquote align=“left” width=“250” size=“24” bg_color=”#ccdaff” txt_color=”#1e003f”]Perhaps good ole’ Chuck’s soul final­ly found rest today, live on YouTube.[/mks_pullquote]

After months of her slow, easy, super-clean wing­ing, Solar Impulse II has returned to Abu Dhabi.

We have enough solu­tions — enough tech­nolo­gies. We should nev­er accept that the world should be pol­lut­ed only because peo­ple are scared to think in anoth­er way,” Bertrand reas­sures, in tri­umph. One won­ders to which onlooker’s eyes he speaks. To the old roman­tic, he is an explor­er; to any sort of econ­o­mist, an agi­ta­tor. Con­sid­er­ing the rar­i­ty of the avi­a­tion-mind­ed for­mer, I remain unapolo­get­i­cal­ly insis­tent: these are your con­tem­po­rary cow­boys.


They suc­ceed­ed. For us, they streamed the whole dang ordeal, includ­ing the silent labor of open­ing their cham­pagne. Thanks to those GoPro decals, they even cap­tured a “hyper­lapse” of the entire jour­ney. And why not? Clear­ly, there is not much for one to do in the Solar Impulse II.

As a pilot and — dare I say it — avi­a­tion enthu­si­ast, watch­ing Akon Skype with Pic­card on his phone’s front cam­era while snack­ing and dri­ving was a whole new lev­el of spec­ta­cle. No, I don’t think Charles Lind­bergh would’ve accept­ed the call, even if he had the required sur­plus of atten­tion and time, but I do not write to com­plain. The con­trast, while humor­ous, indi­cates that avi­a­tion is now unques­tion­ably dull, indeed. It is no longer dar­ing to cov­er the dis­tance; it is dar­ing to stage history’s first fuel­less round-the-world flight from the capi­tol of Big Oil, occu­py­ing every sin­gle shar­ing tool avail­able, con­fi­dent­ly tra­vers­ing and engag­ing the whole Earth in intel­li­gent ener­gy sci­ence dis­course to pass the time.

We’re back. I said we’d be back.”