Solar plane takes flight

 The first test flight of an
aircraft being designed to fly around the world by solar power alone has been
successfully completed in Switzerland.

The Solar Impulse project’s aircraft flew up
to an altitude of 4,000 feet in an 87 minute flight while stability and
manoeuvrability were checked. The project’s goal is to fly a solar-powered
aircraft around the world in 2012.

This first mission was the most
risky phase of the entire project,” said André Borschberg, chief executive and
co-founder of Solar Impulse.

“Never has an airplane as large and
light ever flown before! The aim was to verify the prototype’s behaviour in
flight and to test its reaction to various manoeuvres. The success of this
first flight allows us to envisage the further program with greater serenity.”

The aircraft has a wingspan wider
than a Boeing 787, embedded with 12,000 solar panels, but weighs just three and
a half tons fully loaded. It is powered by four 10 horse-power engines and
cruises at about 45 miles per hour.

“We still have a long way to go
until the night flights and an even longer way before flying round the world,
but today, thanks to the extraordinary work of an entire team, an essential
step towards achieving our vision has been taken”, said Solar Impulse
co-founder Bertrand Piccard.

“Our future depends on our ability
to convert rapidly to the use of renewable energies. Solar Impulse is intended
to demonstrate what can be done already today by using these energies and
applying new technologies that can save natural resources.”

The planned flight in 2012 will
take off in the Middle East and head east in five stages, with each stage
lasting around 3-4 days. Pilots will have to gain altitude and charge the
aircraft’s batteries during the day and then glide downwards at night.