Engineers with the right stuff
ABB engineers brought crucial know-how to Solar Impulse, helping the team to make the round-the-world zero fuel flight a success
Before completing the first ever flight around the world with no fuel, Solar Impulse was often described as an impossible dream. So how did they do it? Part of the answer is that they brought on board people who didn’t accept that it couldn’t be done.
These are the kind of people that are found throughout ABB, and the four engineers seconded to Solar Impulse during the round-the-world mission made a significant contribution towards the success of the mission, which put their training and experience to the test.
Nicolas Loretan and Stevan Marinkovic were attached to the Solar Impulse workshop in Switzerland, testing crucial on-board electrical systems which, if they failed, would put the flights at serious risk of failure. Tamara Tursijan and Eoin Caldwell were embedded in the Solar Impulse ground crew. Their primary responsibility was to upgrade and maintain the electrical system of the mobile hangar, a bespoke structure that kept the plane safe from winds and storms in several countries and continents.
With the adventure at an end, we got in touch with all of our engineers and asked them to look back on their time with this historic project.
I learned what it is possible to achieve when put under high pressure and very tight deadlines! I also learned how to deal with fast-moving situations, where tasks and schedules change at the last moment, and you need to find a way to deal with it. Sometimes we had to work very fast, at all times of day and night, but always to a very high standard. As an engineer, I felt really lucky to get to learn about MPPTs (maximum power point trackers) and test it to make sure that we could extract as much electrical power from the solar cell as possible. It was a great experience, and I really enjoyed having the opportunity to work with such a diverse group of people, from a wide range of disciplines and on such a cutting-edge project!
During the 6-7 months I spent with SI there was many unforgettable moments. One that I will always remember is definitely the public visit in India. As our bus was approaching the airport early in the morning, we saw a line of thousands of people waiting to see the plane. The total count was about 15’000. These daily interactions with people from all around the world is something that gave the team energy to work even harder. Form the presidential reception in Myanmar to the Hula dancer in Hawaii, there were many rewarding moments. After being a part of such innovative project it is much easier to take up challenges in my daily job. I am grateful to have been a part of a something that was labeled impossible, succeeded and reached so many people.
I started working in Solar Impulse in December 2014 when their engineering team asked for the help of the ABB research center in Baden-Dättwil, which is where I work. We build prototypes in small teams, where we’re expected to think creatively across many different fields. This is exactly the help Solar Impulse was looking for in developing their “flying laboratory”. My short stint was very intense and involved developing a charger for the cockpit battery, a backup supply that would always be charged to maximum capacity (any power failure to cockpit instruments could be catastrophic). I took care of the full design and manufacture of the electronics, as well as final programming of the board, myself. This was very challenging but in the end we got it done in time, ready for the first flight of Solar Impulse 2.
I joined the team in Hawaii in February 2016, with 20’000km still to travel on the Solar Impulse round-the-world journey! I was nervous and excited as to what lay ahead of us: an epic journey taking on continents, oceans, deserts and most of all the unknown. From the moment I stepped off an air-conditioned plane into the warm heat of the Hawaiian night, it felt as if my mission had begun! It’s hard to sum up everything that happened, but I can say that the experience of an ABB engineer was certainly appreciated within the ground crew. I took on Tamara’s responsibility during the first part of the round-the-world mission, ensuring that the electrical systems on the mobile hangar, and soon found myself troubleshooting a wide variety of situations that arose. The experience has been unforgettable, and has widened my horizons. Most of all I’ve been able to see just how big ABB is and met some wonderful employees across half the world!