A Swiss state of mind
Being a pioneer is a state of mind, a gut feeling, a drive. Yet, the more conducive the environment, the easier it is to be successful. A powerhouse of innovation and research, Switzerland not only has the highest innovation performance in Europe, it also tops the Global Competitiveness Report and the Global Innovation Index. Therefore it´s not by chance that Solar Impulse was an idea born in Switzerland and not a surprise that this one-of-a-kind project was destined to complete the historic crossing of the United States: the land of innovation and home to aviation history´s greatest pioneers.
Five generations connect us to the United States. André´s father, Edwin, studied at Harvard before becoming a professor at the Universities of Lausanne, Fribourg, and Zurich and at the International Institute for Management Development (IMD). André studied business administration at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and flew American-made Northrop F-5 Tigers for the Swiss Air Force. As an entrepreneur, he also launched a start-up company, Innovative Silicon, which had a branch in California´s Silicon Valley.
Bertrand´s grandfather, Auguste, built the bathyscaphe that his son Jacques used to explore the Ocean´s deepest point—the Mariana Trench–together with Don Walsh of the U.S. Navy in 1960. Auguste´s twin brother, Jean Piccard, married an American woman, Jeannette Ridlon, and invented America´s first stratospheric balloon. Jacques built the Grumman/Piccard PX-15 mesoscaphe used for the Grumman mission of the Gulf Stream Drift, a research expedition from Florida to Nova Scotia financed by the U.S. Navy and NASA. Bertrand lived in the U.S. for two years as a child—an eye-opening phase of his life that triggered the explorer within him—allowing him to witness the launchings of Apollo missions 7 through 12 and to meet Charles Lindbergh in person. That exposure later stimulated his desire to complete the flight around the world in a balloon—a world record achieved in 1999 with Brian Jones. The Breitling Orbiter 3 capsule is now displayed at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
Our journey across America with Solar Impulse started at the heart of Silicon Valley, in Mountain View, CA,—America´s innovation and technology hub—leading us to Washington, D.C., and New York City in five stopovers. What better way to promote both countries´ investment in scientific research than to fly a Swiss-made solar airplane able to fly day and night from the Sierra Nevada over the Appalachian Mountains with the same spirit as the pioneers who have inspired us?
Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg