Pilot takes off on first solar-powered intercontinental trip (Update)

Jun 05, 2012
A Swiss adventurer took off Tuesday into the night skies above Madrid and headed for Rabat on the world's first intercontinental flight in a solar-powered plane. Each of the motors on the carbon-fibre plane charges 400-kilogram (880-pound) lithium polymer batteries during the day, allowing the aircraft to carry on flying after dark.

A Swiss adventurer took off Tuesday into the night skies above Madrid and headed for Rabat on the world's first intercontinental flight in a solar-powered plane.

Bertrand Piccard, 54-year-old psychiatrist and balloonist, piloted the , a giant as big as an but as light as an average family car, on the daring voyage from Europe to Africa.

As he guided the experimental plane almost silently aloft from Madrid-Barajas airport at 5:22 am (0322 GMT), a red light could be seen disappearing into the moon-lit sky.

An onboard camera relayed pictures of the Spanish capital's quiet streets stretched out below the aircraft, which has 12,000 in the wings turning four electrical motors.

Helped by a tailwind, Piccard gradually piloted the plane towards 3,600 metres (11,800 feet) as he headed to Seville in southern Spain.

Graphic on the Solar Impulse, the experimental plane that took off Tuesday for the world's first intercontinental flight relying on solar-power.

He was then to cross the Gibraltar Strait at 8,500 metres (28,000 feet), enter Moroccan airspace over Tangiers and land in Rabat-Sale some time after 11 pm (2200 GMT).

All that, without using a drop of fuel.

Each of the motors on the carbon-fibre plane charges 400-kilogram (880-pound) lithium polymer batteries during the day, allowing the aircraft to carry on flying after dark.

Piccard, who made the world's first non-stop round-the-world balloon in 1999 together with Briton Brian Jones, took over the controls from project co-founder Andre Borschberg, a 59-year-old Swiss executive and pilot.

Borschberg flew a first leg from Payerne in Switzerland, landing in Madrid on May 25.

The solar-powered airplane Solar Impulse.

Organisers said the trip, 2,500 kilometres (1,550 miles) overall, is timed to coincide with the of construction on the largest ever solar thermal plant in Morocco's southern Ouarzazate region.

The voyage also is intended as a rehearsal for the plane's round-the-world flight planned for 2014.

The aircraft made history in July 2010 as the first manned plane to fly around the clock on the sun's energy.

It holds the 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).

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Allex
5 / 5 (2) Jun 04, 2012
Oh yeah. The Piccards have a great future as explorers. ;)
Howard_Vickridge
5 / 5 (1) Jun 05, 2012
Brava! to these pioneers. Let's hope that this technology can eventually be developed and deployed in the next couple of decades as a safe and convenient way to power public flight. (Hope they have a 'chute tho). We'll need increased solar cell efficiency manufactured from renewables, and there's good work on that front too.
yoatmon
not rated yet Jun 05, 2012
"Each of the motors on the carbon-fibre plane charges 400-kilogram (880-pound) lithium polymer batteries during the day, allowing the aircraft to carry on flying after dark.


Well, I'll be darned. I would have thought that is accomplished either with solar generators or motors in regen mode.
dilbert
not rated yet Jun 05, 2012
Engage!

Oh yeah. The Piccards have a great future as explorers. ;)

NickFun
not rated yet Jun 05, 2012
Paving the way for the future Jean Luc Piccard!
wwqq
not rated yet Jun 05, 2012
Let's hope that this technology can eventually be developed and deployed in the next couple of decades as a safe and convenient way to power public flight.


Power density in sunlight is abyssmal and it's always going to be.

In order to get enough lift when flying so slowly(70 km/h) and enough sunlight the wing has to be enormous(60 meter wingspan, looks like a couple of meters wide).

If the cells were 100% efficient you could go at ~120 kph(drag goes as the third power of speed). Best case, what is an 8 hour trip today would take >2 days.