Solar-Powered Plane Completes Intercontinental Flight

By Amir Khan on June 6, 2012 10:58 AM EDT

Morocco
The Mausoleum of Mohammed V in Rabat, Morocco, where the plane landed (Photo: Creative Commons)

A solar-powered plane landed in Morocco on Tuesday, completing the world's first intercontinental flight by a plane of this type -- proving it is possible to travel without polluting the environment.

The plane took off from Madrid on Tuesday morning and completed its 19 hour flight without incident.  The plane, which has a wingspan of approximately 200 feet, the same size as a Boeing 777, is powered by 12,000 solar cells across its wings, but only weighs as much as an average car.

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"It was perhaps the most beautiful flight of my life, I have dreamed since I was a child of flying without using fuel," pilot Bertrand Piccard told the Associated Press.

The plane can only fly in near-perfect conditions, but can reach an altitude of 28,000 feet.

The plane is part of the Solar Impulse project, which began in 2003 with a budget of approximately 100 million euros over 10 years, according to Reuters.  The plane embarked on its first flight in April 2010 and completed a 26-hour flight three months later, a record for a solar-powered aircraft.

By flying at night, the plane has shown that it is safe and reliable, Piccard said.

"The aircraft can now fly day and night," he told Reuters. "It's quite a show. It's a technology we can trust."

The plane is no threat to take over business from airlines, however. The planes maximum speed is currently 75 mph (120 km/h), though its cruising speed is typically half that. Commercial jets can fly at over 10 times that speed -- at that speed, the same flight takes only an hour to complete.

But Piccard said the main goal of the flight was to show that the technology is feasible.

"We came here out of admiration for Morocco's pioneering solar energy program," he told the AP. ""All of the technology on this plane can be used in daily life."

Event organizers described the flight as a "dress rehearsal" for an around the world flight with a new and improved plane in 2014.

Morocco is on the forefront of solar energy. The country is set to begin construction on a solar energy farm as part of a project to lessen its dependence on fossil fuels.  It aims to produce 2,000 megawatts of energy by 2020 and sell some of it to Europe.

© 2012 iScience Times All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

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