April 7, 2010

Solar Airplane Completes Test Flight

A prototype of a sun-powered plane successfully completed its first test flight on Wednesday, staying airborne for 1 1/2 hours as it moves one step closer to becoming the first solar aircraft to circumnavigate the globe.

The Solar Impulse, which was designed by a team captained by Swiss pilot and adventurer Bertrand Piccard, launched from a runway located at a military airfield near Payerne, Switzerland.

According to Associated Press (AP) reports, the lightweight 747-sized craft needed only a short amount of acceleration before becoming airborne, achieved a max speed of 28mph, and was able to pull off "a series of turns, slip maneuvers and bank angles reaching 5 degrees" before landing.

"There has never been an airplane of that kind that could fly--never an airplane so big, so light, using so little energy," Piccard told AP reporter Bradley S. Clapper on Wednesday. "So there were huge question marks for us."

"The goal is to fly day and night with no fuel, the goal is to demonstrate the importance of renewable energies, to show that with renewable energies we can achieve impossible things," he added. "Round-the-world will seem impossible until we do it"¦ Today is an absolutely incredible milestone."

The Solar Impulse uses nearly 12,000 solar cells and rechargeable lithium batteries to power four electric engines, which provide a total of 40 horsepower.

The team plans to embark on a night mission by the end of June, and then construct a new version of the craft based on the results of their tests. If all is successful, the Solar Impulse's first attempt to circle the world will occur in 2012. The trip will be split into five stages of up to five days each, with scheduled breaks for maintenance and to put the airplane on display.


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