On Wednesday 2nd May, we were delighted to award our prestigious Mungo Park Medal to Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg, the pilots and driving force behind Solar Impulse, the first plane to circumnavigate the world without a drop of fuel. The presentation took place at Scottish Power HQ, Glasgow, to a packed crowd of over 150 people.
The Mungo Park Medal is named in honour of the 19th century Scottish explorer famed for his expeditions to West Africa. The medal is awarded for an inspirational contribution to geographical knowledge through exploration or adventure in potentially hazardous physical or social environments.
This year’s recipients, Bertrand and André, were the pilots and driving force behind Solar Impulse, the first aircraft to circumnavigate the globe using only the sun’s energy to power its motors. Beginning in Abu Dhabi in March 2015, Solar Impulse flew eastwards across India, China and Japan, before taking on the mighty Pacific Ocean to Hawaii. From here, the plane then crossed the breadth of mainland USA, the Atlantic Ocean, Europe and North Africa, before returning to Abu Dhabi in July 2016. In total, Solar Impulse travelled over 40,000 kilometres.
But the Round-The-World flight was much more than mere adventure. The journey was a platform to demonstrate the power of renewable energies and promote the use of clean solutions on the ground. And, today, it still serves as a powerful message to inspire businesses, politicians, scientists and leaders to help bring about the systemic changes we need to make our world more sustainable.
At last year’s Shackleton Medal Ceremony, recipient Christiana Figueres, former Executive Secretary of UNFCCC said: “We have Solar Impulse, a plane to go around the world only on solar energy. Yes, it is only a small step forward, but that’s the way that we begin to bring down barriers of thought…”
Reflecting on the event, Bertrand Piccard said: “The success of Solar Impulse is only useful if we take it further. My goal is now to select 1000 solutions to protect the environment in a profitable way and encourage governments to have more ambitious environmental targets and energy policies.”
Bertrand Piccard is an aviation pioneer and the initiator and visionary behind Solar Impulse. As an explorer, his ambition is to leverage a pioneering spirit for a useful contribution to the cause of renewable energies and clean technologies.
In response to joining such a distinguished list of medal recipients, André said: “It is an honour for us and the entire Solar Impulse team to receive this award, especially in Scotland, a place that I have visited many times before to meet my dear Scottish friends”
As a mechanical engineer, André played an important role in directing the construction of Solar Impulse, the frame of which was made predominantly out of ultra-lightweight materials such as carbon fibre and innovative ‘honeycomb sandwich panels’. The aircraft had a wingspan of 72m, multiple lithium polymer batteries to store energy for flight at night, and included a small 3.8m² cockpit to allow Bertrand or André to fly the plane one at a time. In terms of propulsion, the aircraft held 17,248 monocrystalline silicon solar cells mounted on the wings, fuselage and tailplane which created enough energy to power the motors to an average cruising speed of 43mph.
The Mungo Park Medal was inaugurated in 1930 and has been awarded to an illustrious list of names from the worlds of adventure, research and communication. These include, amongst others, Thor Heyerdahl of Kon-Tiki fame; bushcraft expert Ray Mears; geographer, traveller and TV presenter Nicholas Crane; journalists Kate Adie, John Simpson and Tim Butcher; and, more recently, Inverness-based adventurer and Paralympic gold-medallist, Karen Darke.
Mike Robinson, Chief Executive of RSGS commented: “Since the RSGS was founded, its role has been to draw on the best expertise available, to inform and inspire people, and to promote and develop answers to the most critical geographical issues. It is with great delight, therefore, that we award Bertrand and André with the Mungo Park Medal in recognition of their innovative contribution to transforming our world. Their work with Solar Impulse has gone a long way to promote cleaner technological practices and challenge the boundaries of what is possible.”