French adventurer Raphaël Dinelli plans to fly across the Atlantic in 2015 in a plane powered only by seaweed and sunshine.
Dinelli, 44, a well-known French round-the-world sailor, has designed a non-polluting plane, called Eraole. He hopes it will be the first plane to leave no carbon footprint when it flies.
To combine his twin passions for innovation and adventure, Dinelli is planning to emulate Charles Lindbergh – the most celebrated of aviation pioneers – and fly the still un-built plane across the Atlantic.
“I want to attempt what Charles Lindbergh did in 1927, namely to cross the Atlantic solo and non-stop. If I succeed, it will be the first transatlantic flight in history without a carbon footprint,” he told France’s Le Figaro newspaper.
The plane, Eraole, will be 8 meters long with a wingspan of 14 meters and made of carbon fibre. It will weigh 750 kilograms. The solar panels will generate 25 per cent of its energy, Dinelli estimates.
For the estimated 50 hour flight across the Atlantic, Dinelli and his team calculated that batteries would be too heavy. They toyed with the idea of using hydrogen, but decided that would make the plane a potential “bomb”.
They ultimately turned to a diesel generator powered by oil extracted from micro-algae free of the polluting particulates and, said Dinelli, because the algae take their CO2 from the atmosphere, carbon neutral.
Dinelli plans to make the flight in June 2015 to exploit the long hours of sunshine at the summer solstice, although he says the flight will need good weather and a favourable wind. To save energy the plane could glide for three or four hours a day.
To save weight, his cockpit will also not be pressurised. “I will be cold and lack oxygen, like the aviation pioneers,” Dinelli told FRANCE 24 on Tuesday.
“Aviation must turn to other technologies to limit greenhouse gas emissions and costs,” he told Le Figaro. “I know that tomorrow, Airbus will not only fly with photovoltaic panels and micro-algae oil, but it’s a small step.”
When Lindbergh took off on his flight into the unknown, he had no way of being sure his plane could complete the flight, said Dinelli. With Eraole there also be questions of “viability and the weight of the fuel,” he said, “the same problems as the pioneers.”
Dinelli told FRANCE 24 that he is driven by a passion for innovation and “extreme challenges.”
Sailed Vendee Globe as a “pirate”
He trained as a sailor and competed in the Vendee Globe, the famed non-stop single-handed round-the-world yacht race, four times, finishing twice.
Dinelli became famous in France when in 1996, after his late entry was refused, he raced anyway in the Vendee Globe as a “pirate”, but his boat capsized during a violent storm in the Southern Ocean. He was rescued by British yachtsman Peter Goss who received a Legion d’Honneur for turning his boat around in a severe storm and spending two days sailing into hurricane force winds in the hunt for Dinelli. He finally found the charismatic French man in a life raft, reportedly clutching a bottle of champagne.
“I have sailed across all the oceans,” he told the Figaro. “For sailors, global warming is a reality that we live every in an extremely violent manner every time that we race.”
Dinelli plans to build and test a prototype this year. He has also been training for 18 months for his pilot’s licence.
“For me, sailing or flying, it’s the same thing. A yacht has a sail, keel and rudder, it’s the same principal as an airplane wing,” he said. “The difference is the risk. In a boat, in the worst case you can turn over or dismast. When flying, things can be more extreme …”