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Solar plane makes maiden flight

A solar powered airplane has taken its first major test flight from an airfield in western Switzerland.

The Solar Impulse is “the first aircraft designed to fly night and day without fuel or polluting emissions,” explain backers. The plane has the wing span of an Airbus A340, the weight of an average car, and is powered by 12,000 solar cells.

The flight was designed to test the solar plane and discover any vulnerabilities, and follows previous tests on a smaller scale where the plane was kept to 60 cm in altitude over a distance of 300 m.

Solar Impulse HB-SIA climbed to 1200 m and spent 87 minutes in the air under the control of test pilot Markus Scherdel. Manoeuvres included turns and simulating the approach to landing.

“This first flight was for me a very intense moment,” says Scherdel. “The HB-SIA behaved just as the flight simulator told us. Despite its immense size and feather weight, the aircraft’s controllability matches our expectations.”

Flight to lead to 2012 circumnavigation

The flight of the Solar Impulse precedes plans to use a similar but larger solar powered plane to fly around the world in 2012. A night flight planned for later this year will allow the new plane to be built based on the results of tests. The two pilots will fly across the Atlantic Ocean before attempting to circumnavigate the globe.

“This first mission was the most risky phase of the entire project,” adds André Borschberg, Co-Founder of the project. “Never has an airplane as large and light ever flown before. The success of this first flight allows us to envisage the further program with greater serenity.”

“We still have a long way to go until the night flights and an even longer way before flying round the world but, today, thanks to the extraordinary work of an entire team, an essential step towards achieving our vision has been taken,” says Solar Impulse Chairman Bertrand Piccard.

“Our future depends on our ability to convert rapidly to the use of renewable energies. Solar Impulse is intended to demonstrate what can be done already today by using these energies and applying new technologies that can save natural resources.”

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