Solar-powered plane attempts global circuit

A Swiss solar-powered plane took off from Abu Dhabi, marking the start of the first attempt to fly around the world without a drop of fuel.

Solar Impulse founder André Borschberg was at the controls of the single-seater when it took off from the Al Bateen Executive Airport.

Borschberg will trade off piloting with Solar Impulse co-founder Bertrand Piccard during stopovers on a journey that will take months to complete. The Swiss pilots say their aim is to create awareness about replacing “old polluting technologies with clean technologies”.

The plane was expected to reach its first destination — Muscat, Oman — after about 10 hours of flight. Some legs of the trip, such as over the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, will mean five or six straight days of flying solo.

The lightweight Solar Impulse 2, a larger version of a single-seat prototype that first flew five years ago, is made of carbon fibre and has 17,248 solar cells built into the wing that supply the plane with renewable energy. The solar cells recharge four lithium polymer batteries. The company says the plane has a 72-meter wingspan but weighs about as much as a car at around 2,300kg.

In June the plane made an inaugural flight of two hours and 17 minutes above western Switzerland, just two months after it was unveiled.

After Oman, the plane will head to India, where it will make two stops, then to China and Myanmar before heading across the Pacific and stopping in Hawaii. Then it will head to Phoenix, Arizona, and New York’s biggest airport, John F Kennedy International.

The round-the-world trip is expected to end in late July or even August.


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