First pilots to fly around the world in solar-powered aircraft reveal their love of Scotland

Bertrand Piccard at the controls of Solar Impulse (Jean Revillard/
Bertrand Piccard at the controls of Solar Impulse (Jean Revillard/

THE first pilots to fly around the world in a solar-powered aircraft have revealed their love of Scotland is based more on liquid sunshine than the real thing.

Award-winning pilots Andre Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard touched down to receive a prestigious award from the Royal Scottish Geographical Society after their landmark flight in Solar Impulse.

The intrepid duo were awarded the Mungo Park Medal – named after the Scottish explorer of West Africa – for their 24,999 miles flight using only the energy of the sun to power the aircraft’s motors in 2016.

The pilots, who have also been honoured by the National Geographic Society and the French Geographical Society, visit Scotland when they can and say they love the people.

Although, Bertrand says, there is another reason for enjoying their visit.

“I have a big connection to single malt whisky,” he said. “It is absolutely unique.

“When I am with friends at home, it’s always a tradition that we go to my special collection of malt whiskies. I especially like Laphroaig, it’s salty and peaty. The taste from the sea – this is what I love.”

The Mungo Park Medal is awarded for an inspirational contribution to geographical knowledge through exploration or adventure in potentially hazardous physical or social environments.

Now the pioneering pair have separate plans to help clean up the world – Bertrand is developing 1000 eco-friendly solutions to world problems and Andre hopes to revolutionise the way we travel… even developing the idea of electric planes.

Doctor, aviation pioneer and psychiatrist Bertrand, who was the visionary behind Solar Impulse, which proved you could travel the world using “clean energy”, said: “We are very honoured to have received this medal from the society in Scotland.”

Pilots Bertrand Piccard, left, and Andre Borschberg with their solar power aircraft (Solar Impulse)

Bertrand, who also flew round the world in a hot-air balloon, is a third-generation explorer and his father Jacques and his grandfather, Auguste, were also world-leading inventors and innovators.

He said: “I have a strong connection with the Royal Scottish Geographical Society because it was important to me to be recognised by a geographical society and not only by the world of aviation. While Solar Impulse was an aviation adventure, it was also the best way to attract the awareness and excitement of people.

“It was useful to show that we want to protect the environment and fight climate change.”

His partner on the project, entrepreneur, explorer and mechanical engineer, Andre also said how honoured he was to receive the award from the RSGS because “it is a society about explorers, about people who went around the world to discover, to explore; the real pioneers.

“I have a great respect for this country.

“I remember flying to the Shetland Islands, far north, and experiencing incredible geography. I mean, the colours I had never seen before.”

Now that Bertrand and Andre have caught the world’s attention by completing what was thought to be an “impossible” mission, they are both developing their own ideas to make the world a better place.

Bertrand, who launched the Solar Impulse Foundation’s Efficient Solution label on Wednesday, explained: “Today you have six or seven million people dying every year of air pollution.

“You have climate change and depletion of natural resources, wars where people are fighting for water, gas, oil, so we have to do something in the present.”

He is now working with start-ups, universities, companies, and international institutions, to gather 1000 solutions by the end of next year.

They already have more than 700.

Andre added: “Now we can really start the work we want to embark on to show the political world that new products can make new jobs, not just a cleaner environment.

“Today we have electric cars, tomorrow we can have electric airplanes; not just replacing the combustion engine with electric motors but developing new aircraft solutions.”

Mike Robinson, Royal Scottish Geographical Society CEO, said: “Bertrand and Andre’s work with Solar Impulse has gone a long way to promote cleaner technological practices and challenge the boundaries of what is possible.”