Solar Impulse charges into first intercontinental flight

Andre Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard prepare for a takeoff (Photo from
The world’s most high-tech solar powered aircraft has taken to the skies for its first intercontinental flight, from Switzerland to Morocco. The 2,500-km journey with only one stopover will be the longest ever for the record-holding Solar Impulse.

­The aircraft was the first manned plane to fly around the clock solely on solar energy, setting a midair record of 26 hours, 10 minutes and 19 seconds in July 2010. Its new flight is intended as a practice run before a far more ambitious round-the-world journey scheduled for 2014.

Anyone interested can follow the progress on the project’s website. The speed, altitude and heading of the aircraft are presented in real time, as well as the batteries' load and current solar generator power.

The aircraft is expected to cover the distance between Payerne in Switzerland and Rabat in Morocco in 48 hours. However, first pilot Andre Borschberg and second pilot Bertrand Piccard will make a stopover in Madrid to take some rest and switch seats.

The Swiss long-range sun-powered aircraft has a wingspan of 63 meters, which is comparable to Airbus A340 airliner. It is covered with 12,000 solar cells that charge lithium batteries during the day to feed four electric engines during the night.

The development and construction of the $115 million aircraft started in 2003. The project was promoted by Piccard, a co-pilot of the first non-stop round-the-world balloon flight.

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