Solar Impulse 2: World’s first solar-powered around the world flight takes off in March

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Swiss pilots Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg will attempt to fly around the world in a solar-powered plane, in a bid to prove that such a flight is possible without the use of fossil fuels.

The Solar Impulse 2 will take off from Abu Dhabi in late February or early March. The solar-powered plane has a wingspan of 72 metres, larger than that of a Boeing 747, but weighs only 2.3 tons, about as much as a family car.

More than 17,000 solar cells on the wing power lithium-ion batteries in four electric motors. The airframe makes use of carbon fiber, which is three times lighter than paper, to keep the plane as light as possible.

The two pilots will take turns in an unheated, unpressurized one-man cabin that contains six oxygen bottles for high-altitude flight. An ergonomic seat in the cabin allows the pilot to take naps, with a wrist-mounted buzzer to alert him in the event of an emergency. There is a toilet in the seat and a liferaft and parachute in the seat back.

The plane will take off at night at 35 kmph and ascend to 8,500 metres during the day at a top speed of 140 kmph as it stores solar energy. At night the plane will descend to 1,500 metres and slow down to conserve power.

The 35,000 km flight is expected to take about five months, with stops in Oman, India, Myanmar, China, the United States, and in Southern Europe or North Africa depending on the weather. The Solar Impulse 2 should land back in Abu Dhabi in late July or early August.

Piccard, an airplane and glider pilot, flew around the world in a balloon in 1999 and pioneered ultralight aircraft in the 1970s. Borschberg joined the Solar Impulse project after two years in the Swiss Air Force.

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