May 13, 2011

Solar Pulse Aircraft Makes First International Flight

Solar Impulse HB-SIA, the first Swiss solar-powered aircraft, once again took flight this week, but this time on an international journey from Switzerland to Belgium.

In 2010 the experimental emissions-free aircraft set a record for the longest flight by a manned solar-powered airplane, reports AFP. Solar Impulse stayed aloft above Switzerland for 26 hours, 10 minutes and 19 seconds, and also set a record for altitude at 30,298 feet.

Since then, the aircraft has flown several more times, especially between Geneva and Zurich airports. However, this time, the flight to Brussels will test the plane's ability to fly through crowded international airspaces.

The dragonfly-like one pilot plane, with a wingspan of a large airliner and weighing no more than a small car, and piloted by co-founder Andre Borschberg lifted off from Payerne airbase at 8:40 a.m. after early morning delays due to wind and mist.

The journey to Brussels Airport is expected to take about 12 hours to complete.

Borschberg says, "Flying an aircraft like Solar Impulse through European airspace to land at an international airport is an incredible challenge for all of us, and success depends on the support we receive from all the authorities concerned." He was also the pilot in July's flight.

The batteries that provide the energy for Solar Impulse's four 10-hoursepower electric propeller engines rely on 12,000 solar cells on its 64-meter wings.

"This time, we have a real airplane -- flying -- proof that new technologies can reduce our dependence on fossil energy," says Bertrand Piccard, joint founder and president of the Solar Impulse project.

Piccard, along with Brian Jones, has flown nonstop around the world in a balloon, and comes from a long line of pioneers.

In fact, his grandfather Auguste Piccard has beaten the record for reaching the highest altitude in a balloon twice in 1931 and 1932; and his late father Jacques Piccard was a deep sea explorer with a record for traveling to the deepest point underwater at 35,813 feet below sea level in the Marianas Trench in the Pacific, reports AFP.

The pioneering Solar Impulse team plans to take Trans-American, transatlantic and round-the-world flights on a slightly larger aircraft in 2013 and 2014.

Once it lands in Brussels, the green technology plane will be showcased there until May 29 when it will be flying to the international airshow at Le Bourget in Paris from June 20 to 26.

Viewers can track the plane's progress live online and see key parameters such as location, altitude, ground speed, battery levels and how much energy its solar cells are generating.


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