Solar Powered Plane Lifts Off on World Tour – Voice of America

Posted: Monday, March 09, 2015

A solar-powered Swiss airplane took off from Abu Dhabi early Monday on the first leg of what its creators hope will be the first around-the-world journey without any fuel.


The carbon fiber single-seater Solar Impulse 2 aircraft has a 72-meter wingspan, which is longer than the wingspan of a Boeing 747, and weighs about as much as a car. The 17,000 solar cells built into the wings harness the sun’s energy, allowing it to fly through the night.


The Si2 took 12 years to build and is the brainchild of two Swiss scientists: Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg.


Borschberg, who was in the pilot’s seat Monday, is the CEO of Solar Impulse. He is a trained fighter pilot and a professional airplane and helicopter pilot. He and Piccard will trade off piloting duties during stopovers.


Piccard is a psychiatrist, an explorer and the aeronaut who made the first-ever non-stop round-the-world balloon flight.


The two say they are not out to revolutionize the aviation industry, but are instead aiming to demonstrate that actual alternative energy sources and new technologies can achieve what some consider impossible.


Some legs of the Si2 trip will require the pilots to be in the tiny cockpit for five to six days and nights in a row. So it is a good thing that the multi-purpose pilot’s seat also functions as both a recliner and a toilet.


The aircraft’s route includes stops in Oman, India, Mandalay, Myanmar and China.  After crossing the Pacific Ocean via Hawaii, the plane will also make at least three stops in the U.S., touching down in Phoenix, Arizona, and New York City, and possibly another location dependent on weather conditions. 


The final legs after crossing the Atlantic include a stopover in southern Europe or North Africa before arriving back in Abu Dhabi in late July or early August.  

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