Setting records can be much harder than it looks. In this age of big budgets, high technology, computer simulation and exotic materials, it can take some doing to convince people that doing something new was in fact difficult – not to mention dangerous.

Take the Solar Impulse round-the-world flight project. After six legs and a couple of solar-powered endurance records, weather forced a diversion to Japan; there, the wait for a weather window stretched to a month before opening up to allow a five-day, five-night hop to Hawaii – and a new record.

Following the flight via the internet conveyed little of the anxiety that must have accompanied pilot André Borschberg who, it emerged on arrival, was flying on batteries terminally damaged by the stress of the flight. Had it all gone wrong, he would likely have been all right with the inflatable life raft, satellite beacon and radio that Amelia Earhart would have liked to have carried.

Or, consider Didier Esteyne. His first electric-powered English Channel crossing looked easy, at least when viewed through the eyes of Louis Blériot – who saw fog and the unknown, rather than speedboat escorts, carbonfibre and modern meteorology.

But to compare today’s record breakers with barnstorming pioneers is to miss the point, which is very much not the human thrill of it; what matters now is to do things better, more safely, cleanly and reliably.

Source: Flight International