Solar plane to attempt longest ever flight

Solar Impulse to attempt longest ever flight
The Solar Impulse prototype plane is to make its longest ever journey this Spring, demonstrating the true potential for pollution free air travel.

After its inaugural flight to Paris and Brussels in 2011, the solar aircraft will attempt, for the first time, to fly over 2,500km without using a drop of fuel, before finally touching down in Morocco.

The long duration flight will serve as a dress rehearsal for the round-the-world trip scheduled for 2014, allowing the team to gather additional experience in cooperating with international airports, integrating the prototype into regular air traffic patterns and managing the logistics of maintenance.

"Flying as far as this, powered only by solar energy will be excellent training for the round-the-world trip," said André Borschberg, co founder and ceo of Solar Impulse.

The Solar Impulse project was started by Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard in 2003 with a 10 year budget of €90million. The plane, which has the wingspan of a Boeing 747 and is powered by some 12,000 solar cells mounted on its wings, made aviation history in July 2011 by flying through the night on solar power alone.

Piccard and Borschberg will take turns to fly the aircraft on its 48 hour journey this May/June, with a scheduled intermediate stopover near Madrid to change pilots. The trip will coincide with the launch of work in the region of Ouarzazate to construct the largest solar power plant ever built.

Upon landing in Mexico, the pilots will be welcomed by the Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy, whose role is to develop Morocco's solar energy plan. This programme is said to be the most ambitious not only in the region but worldwide, in terms of its innovative strategies and large scale integration of solar technologies.

Morocco intends by 2020 to build five solar complexes, generating in total 2000MW and preventing the emission over time of 3.7million tons of CO2. The solar-thermal power plant in the region of Ouarzazate, which will have a capacity of 160MW, is part of the solar complex, housing a range of solar installations which, by 2015, will generate a total of 500MW.

"We are full of admiration for the vision of and intelligent energy policy adopted by Morocco. We are delighted to support it," said Piccard. "Theirs is a pioneering project, which clearly demonstrates that the clean technologies we are promoting with Solar Impulse also have a role to play in everyday life."

Laura Hopperton

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