Solar Powered Airplane Takes off Towards History

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( — March 9, 2015)  — In a century of developed air transportation there is still plenty of room for new records to be set. The latest one is the record for the longest time spent in the air. The second generation of the Swiss-engineered solar-powered airplane, Solar Impulse 2, has taken off from Abu Dhabi in a solar-powered flight around the globe and an attempt to break this record.

The four engine airplane took off Monday from Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, to its first check point in Oman, on a five month-long journey across the planet, the media reported.

Swiss pilots Andre Borschberg, Bertrand Piccard and the airplane construction crew are hoping to break the record of 19,000 nautical miles (35,000km) on solar-powered flight. The journey has been split to 12 legs with a total flight time of some 500-hours, according to a press release.

According to the ‘Solar Impulse 2’ website, the prototype uses existing technologies along with the development of new materials and new construction methods. Solvay has invented electrolytes that allow the energy density of the batteries to be increased; Bayer ‘Material Science’ is allowing the project to make use of its nanotechnologies; and the plane is using carbon fibers that are lighter in weight than any previously seen, the ‘Solar Impulse 2’ website stated.

The aircraft utilizes a 236-foot wingspan that looks more like a glider with engines than a traditional airplane. The wings are covered with 17,248 solar cells to power the four electric motors. The speed of the aircraft is the weakest point as it cruises at around 50 to 100 km per hour.

During the day, the solar cells recharge lithium batteries weighing 2077 lbs. (633 Kg) which allow the aircraft to fly at night and therefore to have virtually unlimited autonomy, however, the pilots plan to make 15 landings, one for every five days of continuous flight.

According to the media, a crew of 65 air traffic controllers and weathermen will follow the flight. The plane is scheduled to return to Abu Dhabi in July.

The Solar Impulse project in numbers:

12 years of feasibility study, concept, design and construction
50 engineers and technicians
80 technological partners
more than 100 advisers and suppliers
1 prototype (Solar Impulse 1, registered as HB-SIA)
1 final airplane
(Solar Impulse 2, registered as HB-SIB)