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Pilots set for first round-the-world solar flight

ABU DHABI: The first attempt to fly around the world in a solar-powered plane will take off from Abu Dhabi on Monday, its pilots said, in a landmark journey aimed at promoting green energy.

The takeoff of Solar Impulse 2, which was delayed on Saturday due to high winds, would cap 13 years of research and testing by Swiss pilots Andre Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard.

“This project is a human project, it is a human challenge,” Borschberg, co-founder and chief executive of Solar Impulse told reporters on Sunday.

The wingspan of the one-seater plane, known as the Si2, is slightly bigger than that of a jumbo jet, but its weight is around that of a family car.

It will take off from Abu Dhabi on Monday at 6:30 am (0230 GMT), landing first in Muscat, Oman.

From there, it will make 12 stops on an epic journey spread over five months, with a total flight time of around 25 days.

The longest single leg will see a lone pilot fly non-stop for five days across the Pacific Ocean between Nanjing, China and Hawaii, a distance of 8,500 kilometres (5,270 miles).

All this will happen without burning a drop of fuel.

“We want to share our vision of a clean future,” said Piccard, chairman of Solar Impulse.

“Climate change is a fantastic opportunity to bring in the market new green technologies that save energy, save natural resources of our planet, make profit, create jobs, and sustain growth,” Piccard said.

The pilots’ idea was ridiculed by the aviation industry when it was first unveiled.

But Piccard, who hails from a family of scientist-adventurers and was the first person, in 1999, to circumnavigate the globe in a hot air balloon, clung to his belief that clean technology and renewable energy “can achieve the impossible”.

The plane is powered by more than 17,000 solar cells built into wings that, at 72 metres (236 feet), are longer than a jumbo and approaching that of an Airbus A380 superjumbo.

Thanks to an innovative design, the lightweight carbon fibre aircraft weighs only 2.3 tonnes, about the same as a family 4X4 and less than one percent of the weight of the A380.

Si2 is the first solar-powered aircraft able to stay aloft for several days and nights.

The propellor craft has four 17.5 horsepower electric motors with rechargeable lithium batteries.

It will travel at 50-100 kilometres per hour, with the slower speeds at night to prevent the batteries from draining too quickly.

It is scheduled to arrive back in Abu Dhabi in July.

Its progress can be monitored via live video streaming at www.solarimpulse.com. (AFP)

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