A plane powered solely by photovoltaics has taken off today from Abu Dhabi for a challenging round-the-world trip.
The Solar Impulse 2, a reiteration of the earlier Solar Impulse 1 that successfully crossed America in 2013, has set out from Al Bateen Executive Airport at 7.15am UTC for Oman with Andre Borschberg, one of the two project’s creators aboard.
The first leg of the ground-breaking 35,000km round the world flight is expected to last about 10 hours, covering the 284km distance to Oman’s capital Muscat.
The journey of the single-seater plane, with mass of only 2,300kg but with a wingspan greater than that of the largest passenger jets, will be broken up into 12 legs.
The two Solar Impulse creators, businessman and pilot Andre Borschberg and balloonist and psychiatrist Bertrand Piccard, both Swiss, will be taking turns piloting the plane.
Made of carbon fibre and with its enormous wings covered with 17,248 solar cells recharging four lithium polymer batteries, the plane’s purpose is to promote sustainable energy.
"Solar Impulse wants to mobilize public enthusiasm in favour of technologies that will allow decreased dependence on fossil fuels, and induce positive emotions about renewable energies," said the mission website, which maps out the plane's location and broadcasts audio from the cockpit in real time.
Studies, design and construction took 12 years and the first version of the craft rolled out in 2009 broke records for heights and distances travelled by a manned solar plane.
The flight will make stopovers in India, Myanmar and China before crossing the Pacific Ocean and flying across the United States and southern Europe to arrive back in Abu Dhabi. The most challenging parts of the journey will see the plane flying over the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, which, at the plane’s modest speeds of 50 to 100 km/h, will take up to six days of solo flying.
"Miracles can be achieved with renewables such as solar power," Bertrand Piccard, told Reuters in January.
"We want to show we can fly day and night in an aircraft without a drop of fuel," he said.
Companies involved in the project include Bayer AG, Solvay, ABB, Schindler, Omega and Abu Dhabi's Masdar.
Solar Impulse round the world flight infographic