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Solar Impulse 2 leaves Myanmar for China

The Solar Impulse 2 plane has taken off from an airport in Myanmar bound for China in the most challenging stage so far of a planned flight around the world. The project is aimed at promoting the use of green energy.

The plane, which is powered solely by solar panels, took off from the airport at Myanmar's second-biggest city, Mandalay, before dawn on Monday and set a course for Chongqing in China. If all goes well, Swiss pilot Bertrand Piccard will set the Solar Impulse 2 (Si2) down on the runway at Chongqing's airport sometime after midnight local time (16:00 UTC) following a flight of between 18 and 19 hours.

Piccard embarked on the fifth and most challenging stage so far of the planned circumnavigation of the globe after being stranded in Myanmar for the past 10 days, waiting for bad weather in China to improve. The forecast in China for Monday's stage was clear, but Piccard was expected to have to contend with temperatures as low as -20 degrees Celcius (14 degrees Fahrenheit) as he flies over the mountainous Chinese provinces of Yunnan and Sichuan.

He will fly at such high altitudes for much of the 1,375-kilometer (854-mile) journey, that he will need to use extra oxygen. However, the most difficult part of the flight is expected to come on his approach to Chongqing, as high winds are expected.

Organizers are hoping that Piccard will be able to embark on the sixth stage of the flight, from Chongqing to Nanjing in eastern China on Tuesday morning, as more bad weather is expected to move into the region shortly afterwards.

Promoting use of renewables

The project, which is aimed at promoting the use of solar power and other forms of renewable energy, has already been hit by a minor technical setback, with one of the solar cells having sustained damage, reducing the power available to the plane's four motors by about two percent.

57-year-old Piccard and another Swiss pilot, André Boschberg, who is 62, are taking turns flying the plane in an attempt to circumnavigate the world using only solar energy. They began the attempt on March 9, when the plane took off from Abu Dhabi. They hope to complete the circumnavigation in late July or early August, with the last stage in the Persian Gulf.

pfd/lw (dpa, AFP)

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