Solar-powered airplane starts its round-the-world flight

9 March 2015 – A solar-powered airplane lifted off on its historic round-the-world journey on Monday morning at the crack of dawn from Abu Dhabi, taking off at a speed of just 20 knots (36 kilometers per hour) from the tarmac of the Al Bateen Airport in the UAE capital city on the first leg of its 40,000-kilometer trip to Muscat, Oman -- some 500 kilometers to the east.

The Solar Impulse 2, a specially engineered airplane that will use no fossil fuel, took off at precisely at 7:12 hours local time (3:12 GMT), just minutes after sunrise in Abu Dhabi. The airplane was piloted by Swiss adventurer André Borschberg on this first leg. It has a wingspan larger than a Boeing 747's but weighs the same as a mid-sized car. Borschberg and compatriot Bertrand Piccard will take turns flying Solar Impulse 2 on the pioneering flight that will include some 500 hours of flying.

"What we want to do is to fly around the world in a plane which is powered by solar energy only," said Borschberg. "Just the sun as a source of energy. Our object is to make this airplane a symbol about the potential of what we call the clean-tech industries. Airplanes make people dream. If we can fly around the world with a solar-powered airplane, then we can certainly demonstrate and implement all these clean technologies and applications on the ground."

The first circumnavigation of the Earth in a fixed-wing solar-powered aircraft is designed to showcase the great promise of clean technologies and renewable energy – and the need to confront the perils of climate change. The culmination of 12 years of work and planning, it also promises to be a landmark flight of discovery for science, the environment and aviation.

Made from a lightweight carbon fiber frame, the Solar Impulse 2 aircraft will produce zero carbon emissions on its journey. The four 17.5 horsepower electric motors -- with a ma! ximum to tal output of 70 hp -- that will power the 21.85-meter long and 6.40-meter high aircraft will draw the energy needed entirely from the 17,000 solar cells embedded in its massive wings spanning a total of 72 meters.

The Solar Impulse 2 is the first solar-powered airplane that can fly virtually non-stop and through the night -- thanks to the energy stored during the daylight hours in its state-of-the-art lithium batteries. The Solar Impulse 2 airplane will fly at speeds of up to 140 km/h (77 knots) at high altitude as high as 9,000 meters as it remains aloft on its legs for as many as five consecutive days.

The first leg Muscat should last around twelve hours and sets up the second leg across the Arabian Sea to Ahmadabad in India. The airplane will then fly to Myanmar and later China. From there, Solar Impulse 2 will then face the greatest technical and human challenge of the voyage when one of the two pilots will fly for five straight days and nights to Hawaii. It will also fly to Phoenix and New York before another long leg across the Atlantic. There will be further stops in Europe and Northern Africa before the plane returns to Abu Dhabi.

The exact position of the plane can be seen here:

Free pictures: Jean Revillard, Niels Ackerman for Solar Impulse 2


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