The Solar Impulse 2 has taken off on the most ambitious leg of its round-the-world journey. A pilot warned the solar-powered aircraft must cross the Pacific within weeks or risk being stuck in Japan for a year.
After several days of delays, the Solar Impulse 2 took off early Monday from the Japanese city of Nagoya, attempting to cross the Pacific Ocean in the most ambitious leg of its journey around the world.
The craft, which is powered only by the sun and manned by Swiss pilot Andrew Borschberg, lifted off at around 3 a.m. local time (1800 UTC), five days after poor weather conditions forced flight organizers to cancel previous attempts to take off.
"It took off at 3 o'clock and 4 minutes," Solar Impulse's spokeswoman Elke Neumann said.
The Solar Impulse 2 will travel a distance of 7,900 kilometers (4,900 miles) from Japan to Hawaii in a journey that is expected to take at least five days and five nights. With nowhere to land after leaving Japan, the leg is considered the most ambitious and riskiest for the craft so far.
Borschberg says he will sleep 20 minutes at a time during the long solo flight, normally at night, but has admitted being confined to the 3.8 cubic meter (130-cubic-foot) cockpit will be challenging.
The Solar Impulse 2 began its journey after taking off from Abu Dhabi earlier this year, attempting to become the first ever plane to circumnavigate the globe using only solar power.
Time running short for crossing
The plane has been stranded in Japan for nearly a month after completing several legs of its round-the-world voyage. Poor weather en route from China to Hawaii forced the craft to divert to Japan and caused flight organizers to wait for a more favorable flight window.
One of the plane's pilots, Bertrand Piccard, warned that the plane must cross the Pacific within a few weeks or risk being stuck in Japan for a year. By early August, the days will become too short to provide enough solar power to safely fuel the craft on its flight across the Pacific, and later the Atlantic Ocean.
Conditions for the flight from Japan to Hawaii currently look favorable, according to Neumann, but the weather could change.
The Solar Impulse 2 - successor to the Solar Impulse - is fueled by 17,000 solar cells that recharge its batteries, enabling it to fly. It has a top speed of 140 kilometers per hour.
bw/bk (AFP, AP)