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Fuel-free,solar plane leaves Spain for Morocco

posted 5 Jun 2012, 07:01 by Mpelembe   [ updated 5 Jun 2012, 07:02 ]

Zero fuel aeroplane departs from Madrid and heads to Morocco for first solar powered cross-Mediterranean flight.

A solar powered plane departed from Madrid to Morocco on Tuesday (June 5) to complete the first solar powered cross-Mediterranean flight.
The Solar Impulse protopype had arrived in Madrid from Switzerland on Friday (May 25) for a technical lay over, before departing to its final destination, the Moroccan capital Rabat.

The crew have been working closely with weather forecasters to choose the best day to take off to Rabat. Bad weather conditions forced the Solar Impulse crew to postpone the take off, initially scheduled for Monday (May 28).

The plane, which requires 12,000 solar cells, embarked on its first flight in April 2010 and completed a 26-hour flight three months later, setting a record flying time for a solar powered aircraft. Thanks to four lithium batteries that store the energy obtained, the plane has the potential to fly at night.

The Solar Impulse project began in 2003 with a 10-year budget of 90 million euros ($128 million) and has involved engineers from Swiss lift maker Schindler and research aid from Belgian chemicals group Solvay.

Built with composite materials and carbon fibre, the structure is very light, just 1600 kilograms, and has the wingspan of an Airbus A340. The plane, however, is difficult to control in turbulence.

The pilot and co-founder of the Solar Impulse project Andre Borscheberg said they had to learn how to better fly the revolutionary aircraft.

The Solar impulse crew divided the challenge of flying for over 2500km without any use of fuel and with zero emissions in two legs.

Borscheber piloted the aircraft from Switzerland to Madrid.

Solar Impulse founder, Bertrand Piccard will take over the second leg of the flight to complete the journey to Morocco.

With an average flying speed of 70 km/h (44 mph), Solar Impulse is not an immediate threat to commercial jets, which can easily cruise at more than 10 times that speed.

Project leaders also acknowledged it had been a major challenge to fit a slow-flying plane into the commercial air traffic system.

Piccard said industries should invest in Solar energy in order to reduce the CO2 emissions and obtain revenues.

In 2011, the plane and its crew completed the world's first international flights with a solar-powered aeroplane as they landed at Brussels and Paris airports.

The prospect of flying around the world on a larger version of the craft without having to use any fuel will surely capture the imagination of many.