Round-the-world solar powered flight takes off

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We got pretty excited about the solar car challenge that took place in South Africa last year, although we worried about the impact of potholes on their fragile looking tyres. For the latest solar pioneers that’s not a problem: where they’re going they don’t need wheels.

Solar Impulse 2 is a massive glider that’s completely powered by solar energy. It’s attempting to become the first solar powered airplane to circumnavigate the globe.

Solar Impulse 2 took off from Abu Dhabi early this morning on its first leg of its flight around the world and the first leg of the journey will see the team make the four hour flight from Abu Dhabi to Muscat in Oman, after which it will fly off to Ahmedabad in India. Solar Impulse 2 will then follow a course that will see it fly over Asia, Hawaii, southern USA, cross the Atlantic Ocean towards North Africa and Europe and finally land again in Abu Dhabi.

“To build an aircraft capable of flying day and night powered only by solar energy, it required the optimization of new technologies and a drastic reduction in weight and energy consumption. The whole team had to push back the frontiers of knowledge in materials science, energy management and the human-machine interface,” the team explained.

The craft will be piloted by Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg, and has a wing span of 72 m, weighs 2 300kg, is powered by four 17.5 HP engines coupled to 17 248 solar cells. It’s not very fast, as it can reach a top speed of only 90km/h.

“Solar Impulse is the only airplane of perpetual endurance, able to fly day and night on solar power, without a drop of fuel. Our challenge is to attempt the First Round-The-World Solar Flight in 2015, a way for Bertrand Piccard, André Borschberg and their team to demonstrate how pioneering spirit, innovation and clean technologies can change the world,” it explained on its Facebook page.

If you would like to follow the team on their epic 12 leg journey, you can click here to keep track of its flight through a really cool interactive website (which seems to have collapsed under the load at the time of writing). The website features a live video and audio feed from the control room, as well as communications with the pilots.

The map also allows you to see where the plane is in real-time, and you can click through the different stages to see more information on it.

[Image – Solar Impulse]

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