A team of Swiss adventurers took their solar-powered plane on its first international flight Friday, a 370-mile (600-kilometer) leap from a small airfield in Switzerland to Brussels airport in Belgium.
The Solar Impulse HB-SIA single-seater prototype took off from Payerne airfield in Switzerland at 8:40 a.m. (0640 GMT) after a three-hour delay due to strong winds. It is expected to reach Brussels by nightfall.
The experimental aircraft “Solar Impulse” takes off for its first international flight to Brussels at the airbase in Payerne, Switzerland, Friday, May 13, 2011. The single-seater prototype took off Friday morning and is expected to reach Brussels airport by nightfall. The solar-powered plane with the wingspan of a Boeing 777 made its 2009 maiden flight in Switzerland and further tests have all taken place there.
The plane with the wingspan of a Boeing 777 made its 2009 maiden flight in Switzerland and further tests have all taken place there. Last year it completed a 26-hour non-stop flight that proved the plane can stay aloft at night from the solar energy its 12,000 solar cells soaked up during the day.
The team, led by pilot Andre Borschberg and adventurer Bertrand Piccard, said Friday’s flight across France, Luxembourg and Belgium poses a fresh challenge as it requires navigation across international air traffic networks.
They hope to fly an improved version of the plane around the world in 2012.
The flight can be followed on the team’s website, where visitors can track the plane’s progress live on a map and see key parameters such as altitude, ground speed, battery levels and how much energy its solar cells are generating.
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Pioneering Swiss solar-powered aircraft Solar Impulse, which holds a 26-hour record for flight duration, took off from Switzerland today on its first international flight to Belgium.
The experimental single-seater aircraft is expected to take about 12 hours to complete the journey to Brussels Airport, the team said.
Solar Impulse, piloted by co-founder Andre Borschberg, lifted off gently in clear blue skies from Payerne, in western Switzerland, at 8:40 am (0640 GMT) after being delayed by early morning mist.
The high-tech aircraft, which has the wingspan of a large airliner but weighs no more than a saloon car, made history in July 2010 as the first manned plane to fly around the clock on the sun's energy.
It holds a record for the longest flight by a manned solar-powered aeroplane after staying aloft for 26 hours, 10 minutes and 19 seconds above Switzerland, also setting a record for altitude by flying at 9,235 metres (30,298 feet).
It has since flown several times, notably between the Geneva and Zurich airports, but the hop to Brussels in crowded European airspace is regarded as a new challenge.
"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," said Borschberg, who also piloted July's flight.
The aircraft, a showcase for green technology, will go on show at Brussels airport until May 29 before flying on to the international air show at Le Bourget in Paris from June 20 to 26.
The Solar Impulse team is planning to fly even further, including possible manned transatlantic and round-the-world flights in 2013 and 2014 with a slightly larger aircraft.