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Solar-powered plane takes off on a historic round-the-world flight

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Swiss-made, 100% solar-powered airplane took off from Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates on Monday, March 9, 2015 in a first ever attempt to fly around the world in a plane powered entirely by energy received from the Sun.

On the same day, the plane successfully completed the first of 12 parts of its trip, flying from Abu Dhabi to Muscat, Oman. It was a relatively easy part that lasted 13 hours but the real challenges are yet to come; like the stretch from Nanjing, China to Hawaii, a 8 000 km (5 000 miles) journey of some 120 hours or 5 days.

At 02:35 UTC today, the plane took off on its second flight, from Muscat to Ahmedabad, India. This part is 1 465 km long (910 miles) and the estimated flight time is 16 hours.

"Solar Impulse 2" (Si2) airplane is expected to spend the next five months traveling around the world in the hands of Solar Impulse founders Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg.

The next stops are Ahmedabad and Varanasi, India; Mandalay, Myanmar; and Chongqing and Nanjing, China.

After crossing the Pacific Ocean via Hawaii, Si2 will fly across the Continental U.S.A. stopping in three locations – Phoenix, and New York City at JFK. A location in the Midwest will be decided dependent on weather conditions.

After crossing the Atlantic, the final legs include a stop-over in Southern Europe or North Africa before arriving back in Abu Dhabi.

Image credit: Solar Impulse

Si2 builds on a previous solar plane, the Solar Impulse 1, which successfully crossed the United States. 

This revolutionary single-seater aircraft made of carbon fiber has a 72 meter wingspan (larger than that of the Boeing 747-8I) for a weight of just 2 300 kg, equivalent to that of a car.

The 17 000 solar cells built into the wing supply four electric motors (17.5 CV each) with renewable energy.

During the day, the solar cells recharge lithium polymer batteries weighing 633 kg (2077 lbs.) which allow the aircraft to fly at night and therefore to have virtually unlimited autonomy.

Piccard and Borschberg say they do not plan to revolutionize the aviation industry but instead to demonstrate that the actual alternative energy sources and new technologies can achieve what some consider impossible. Solar Impulse wants to mobilize public enthusiasm in favor of technologies that will allow decreased dependance on fossil fuels, and induce positive emotions about renewable energies.

They also want, as they say, to encourage and inspire each and every one of us to become pioneers and explorers in our own lives, and to invent a brighter future. 

  • You can watch this journey live on the Solar Impulse homepage, here.

Featured image credit: Solar Impulse

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