SOLAR PLANE PROTOTYPE IN FIRST TEST FLIGHT
A prototype solar-powered plane has made its first full test flight – coming closer to the goal of using solar energy to fly around the world, British Broadcasting Corporation reports.
The Solar Impulse, with a wingspan similar to that of a super-jumbo jet but weighing the same as a saloon car, took off from a Swiss airfield on Wednesday.
The plane's wings are covered by solar cells which power four electric motors.
Its designers hope a slightly larger production model will circumnavigate the globe in two years' time.
The test flight was intended to verify that the plane's behaviour tallied with simulations.
'With such a large and light plane never having flown before, the aircraft's flight behaviour remains unexplored,' the flight team said in a statement.
Round-the-world balloonist, Bertrand Piccard, is leading the project and intends to pilot the plane along with co-founder, Andre Borschberg.
'It's a very important moment after seven years of work,' said Borschberg before the take-off.
Witnesses said both take-off and landing seemed to go smoothly.
The flight team has been conducting flea-hop tests since December, taking the plane no higher than 60cm in altitude and 300m in distance.
A night flight is planned later this year, and then a new plane will be built based on the results of those tests.
The big take-off is planned for 2012, when the two pilots will try a transatlantic flight before attempting to circumnavigate the globe.