French pilot, scientist, sailor and entrepreneur Raphaël Dinelli has spent the last seven years building and testing the Eraole, a super-lightweight hybrid aircraft powered by solar cells in its wings and by an engine that runs on a special biofuel made from algae. The plane and the trip are a project of his alternative energy company, Laboratoire Océan Vital.
If the name Raphael Dinelli sounds familiar, it’s probably because of his career on the water. Dinelli has won the Vendée Globe round-the-world nonstop solo sailing race four times. Since you can’t put a sail on a plane, he’s done the next best thing and built an aircraft that has no carbon footprint.
The Eraole will take off powered by biofuel and lithium-ion batteries in the plane. Once airborne, Dinelli expects to run on solar power 25 percent of the flight, glide for 20 percent of the time and run the other 55 percent of the trip on biofuel. At a cruising altitude of 10,000 feet and a top speed of 62 mph (100 km/h), the flight will take 60 hours (Charles Lindbergh’s trip on the Spirit of St. Louis took 33.5 hours).
Sixty hours! That shouldn’t be too tough for someone whose sailed solo around the world a few times. Except the Eraole isn’t a sailboat wide open to the brisk air of the open sea – it’s a cramped cabin that’s non-pressurized to save weight, requiring Dinelli to operate on 30 percent less oxygen. He’ll be force to stay awake much of the time because there’s no autopilot either. Dinelli plans to take micro-naps (a few minutes of sleep) and is training by running long distances.
If all goes well, Raphael Dinelli will take off in the Eraole from New York sometime in June 2016 and land in Paris five days later. As usual, his bags will arrive sometime later on a different flight.