Solar Impulse begins round-the-world flight attempt

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Experimental solar-powered aircraft Solar Impulse 2 this morning launched its first attempt at circumnavigating the globe solely using solar power.

The aircraft took off from Abu Dhabi at 7:12am local time this time for the first leg of its journey, which will see it land at Muscat in Oman later today.

Solar Impulse founder and CEO André Borschberg took the wheel for the first leg of the journey joined by the project’s initiator and chairman Bertrand Piccard, with both pilots taking it in turns to fly the single-seater aircraft.

H.E. Dr. Sultan Al Jaber, UAE minister of state and chairman of Abu Dhabi’s renewable energy firm, Masdar, said the “historic day” was the result of “months of intense preparation”.

“Together, we inspired thousands of students and professionals across the country, and I'm confident that such community engagement initiatives will be replicated across the globe, capturing the hearts and imaginations of the world and reaching our collective goal of a cleaner future,“ he said.

The attempt, the first made by a solar-powered aircraft, will see Si2 attempt to circumnavigate the globe over 25 days of flight spread over the course of five months.

The aircraft’s route includes stops in Ahmedabad, India and Nanjing, China, before it crosses the Pacific Ocean via Hawaii on its path across the United States.

After crossing the Atlantic Ocean, Si2 will make a stop in southern Europe or North Africa before returning to Abu Dhabi in late July.

Si2 is powered by a total of 17,248 SunPower solar cells built into the aircraft’s wingspan, supplying four lithium polymer batteries which power the aircraft’s 17.5 CV electric motors.

The aircraft’s 72 meter wingspan is longer than that of a Boeing 747, however it weighs just 2,300kg – equivalent to the weight of a small car.

More than 80 specialists and more than a hundred consultants have contributed towards the development of the aircraft which first started in 2003.

The first prototype, Solar Impulse 1, was officially unveiled in 2009 and broke three world records in 2010 for the first ever day and night flight conducted by a solar-powered aircraft, flying for 26 hours non stop.

Si2 made its maiden flight last year and last month completed its final test flight in Abu Dhabi.

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