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Round-the-world Solar Impulse starts six-day flight from China to Hawaii

The latest leg in the round-the-world attempt by solar-powered Solar Impulse 2 from China to Hawaii will take six days. It could set the record for the longest flight for a single pilot airplane.

Swiss Pilot Andre Borschberg took off in the single seater aircraft from Nanjing Lukou Airport in eastern China early on Sunday morning, local time.

The 62-year-old will spend the next six days and five nights flying at speeds of up to 140 kilometers per hour to cover the 8,172 km (5,078 miles) over the Pacific Ocean to Hawaii. "We have a good weather window, which means we have a stable corridor to reach Hawaii," Borschberg said, just before climbing into the cockpit to test the instruments.

If successful, it will be the longest flight (about 130 hours) for a single pilot airplane in duration, ever flown with any type of airplane.

Borschberg will spend the next days in a 3.8 square meter cockpit, sleeping for just 20 minute periods in order to monitor the flight controls. The flight had been delayed for several weeks because of difficult flight and weather conditions.

A Mission Control Center in Monaco is constantly monitoring Solar Impulse and analyzing its route. The challenge for the flight applies to both pilot and aircraft. In its first ocean crossing, the aircraft will prove if it has the technological capacity to complete the rest of the journey around the world. It started out in Abu Dhabi (UAE) last March and is due to return there in July or early August.

Ahead of his departure, Borschberg said it was a key point for the project and for his co-pilot for the other legs, Bertrand Piccard: "This is the moment of truth. If successful, this flight to Hawaii will demonstrate the credibility of the vision Bertrand had 16 years ago of an airplane flying for days without fuel to change our mindset regarding the enormous potential of clean technologies and renewable energies."

Piccard, Solar Impulse Initiator, Chairman and pilot, echoed the remarks: “This is the exploration leg of the flight around the world. It will be an important milestone for aviation with an airplane capable for the first time ever to fly with unlimited endurance. This represents an extraordinary illustration of technological innovation which André initiated and led during the last 12 years."

If all goes well, Piccard is due to take over the controls for the next leg from Hawaii to Phoenix. The round-the-world journey is scheduled for 12 legs, with a total flight time of around 25 days.

Solar Impulse 2 is powered by four propellers with more than 17,000 solar cells installed on its wings which, at 72 meters, are longer than those of a Boeing 747.

Piccard made the world's first non-stop trip around the world in a hot air balloon in 1999.

jm/jr (AFP, dpa)

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