A record-breaking attempt to fly around the world in a plane using only solar power has been launched in Abu Dhabi. The landmark journey aims to promote green energy.
In a possible transportation breakthrough, a solar-powered plane left Abu Dhabi at 7:12 a.m. (0412 UTC) Monday, beginning the first attempt to circumnavigate the world without fossil fuel.
André Borschberg sat at the controls of the single-seater Solar Impulse 2 when it departed from Al Bateen Executive Airport. He will trade off piloting with co-founder Bertrand Piccard during stopovers.
The plane, which operates on 17,000 solar cells and four 17.5-horsepower electric motors, aims to create awareness about replacing "old polluting technologies with clean and efficient technologies."
The Si2 - successor to a smaller aircraft that notched a 26-hour flight in 2010 - flies 50-100 kilometers per hour (30-60 mph). The plane will land Monday in Muscat, the capital of Oman, approximately 10 hours after takeoff. The launch, originally scheduled for Saturday but delayed due to high winds, capped 13 years of research and testing by Borschberg and Piccard.
"Climate change is a fantastic opportunity to bring to the market new green technologies that save energy, save natural resources of our planet, make profit, create jobs and sustain growth," Piccard said. In 1999, he became the first person to circumnavigate the globe in a hot air balloon, and believes that clean technology and renewable energy "can achieve the impossible."
'A human challenge'
Si2 will make 12 stops over five months, with a flight time of 25 days. The plane will cross the Arabian Sea to India before heading on to Myanmar, China, Hawaii and New York, with landings also earmarked for the Midwestern US and southern Europe or North Africa, depending on weather conditions. A return to Abu Dhabi is scheduled for July.
The longest single leg will see a lone pilot fly nonstop for five days across the Pacific Ocean between Nanjing, China, and Hawaii - a distance of 8,500 kilometers (5,270 miles).
"It is a human challenge," Borschberg told reporters on Sunday.
With a wingspan of 72 meters (236 feet), slightly bigger than that of a jumbo jet, the Si2 weighs 2.3 tons, or about as much as an SUV or larger family car. Though Borschberg and Piccard will take turns inside the plane, it can also fly on autopilot during rest breaks.
The pilots underwent intensive training in preparation for the trip, including yoga and self-hypnosis, allowing them to sleep for periods as short as 20 minutes but awaken feeling refreshed. They will be in close contact with a control center staffed by 65 weather forecasters, air traffic controllers and engineers in Monaco.
mkg/cmk (AFP, dpa, AP)