Solar-Powered Plane Attempts Intercontinental Trip

In a bid to promote the power of clean energy, a group called Solar Impulse is launching an ambitious attempt to fly from Switzerland to Morocco. Next up: a flight around the world.

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Courtesy Solar Impulse

Pilot Bertrand Piccard says his solar-powered plane isn’t as much for carrying passengers as it is for carrying a message about the future of clean energy.

Piccard and Andre Boschberg, along with their group Solar Impulse, have created a solar-powered plane capable of flying night and day, now on the final leg of an intercontinental journey from Switzerland to Spain and across the Strait of Gibraltar to Morocco. As the plane glides toward its destination, interested people can track its progress—including speed and available power—live on the group’s website.

The carbon fiber Solar Impulse plane, which creators say has the wingspan of an Airbus A340 but weighs as much as an average family car, runs on 12,000 solar cells that power four electrical motors.

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“By writing the next pages in aviation history with solar energy, and voyaging around the world without fuel or pollution, Solar Impulse’s ambition is for the world of exploration and innovation to contribute to the cause of renewable energies, to demonstrate the importance of clean technologies for sustainable development; and to place dreams and emotions back at the heart of scientific adventure,” Piccard says.

Borschberg piloted the first leg of the journey, from Switzerland to Spain; Piccard is finishing up the 1,550-mile trip and is expected to arrive in Rabat Tuesday evening. Organizers say the first Solar Impulse plane wasn’t designed to fly around the world, but simply prove that a manned solar plane can fly both day and night — a feat the accomplished with a record-breaking 2010 flight, marking the first time ever a plane has flown for 26 hours continuously without fuel.

The Solar Impulse team has already started work on its second-generation aircraft, and hopes to use it to circumnavigate the world by 2014.

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