Solar-Powered Airplane Completes Intercontinental Journey

By Mo Mozuch on July 25, 2012 5:19 PM EDT

photo: Solar Impulse
photo: Solar Impulse

A one-of-a-kind solar powered airplane developed by Solar Impulse completed a round-trip journey from Switzerland across Africa the company announced Tuesday. The plane, named HB-SIA, was piloted by Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg over eight separate legs totaling more than 4,000 miles.

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"The goal of this airplane is not just to go from one point to another, but to fly as long as we wish, promote renewable energy and ambitious energy policies," said Piccard, also the founder of Solar Impulse, during the intercontinental flight. "All of these have been so successful."

The final leg on Tuesday was a 382-mile trip from Toulouse, France to Payerne, Switzerland. It took 13 hours and 29 minutes. The plane averaged an air speed of 28 mph. Throughout the journey, the plane flew during daylight hours but took off and landed during the evening to avoid interference from thermal pockets.

Regardless of flight time, the Solar Impulse team reported that the plane always entered the hangar after each leg with a nearly full set of batteries. The plane was built to provide an aircraft that could fly day and night, a challenge it completed with a 26-hour flight in 2010.

"It's been an extraordinary adventure, not only for what we've achieved with this airplane, originally only designed to demonstrate the possibility of flying day and night with a purely solar energy, but also for what has resulted in a tightly fused team, confident in the project and in their capacity to make it happen," said Borschberg, who is Solar Impulse's CEO.

Solar Impulse promoted the flight on its website by allowing visitors to track the plane's location. It also ran a photo contest asking users to snap pics of the plane in action and upload them to the website. Winners receive a Solar impulse hat and t-shirt, as well as a book signed by the pilots and other team members who worked on the project. 

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