Solar Impulse Plane to make more flights in Switzerland

The Solar Impulse plane has already set a new record in beating a 24-hour solar-powered flight. This week, the team announced plans for three longer flights across Switzerland. The ultimate goal for the Solar Impulse HB-SIA is to fly around the world on only the power of sunlight. They expect to begin transoceanic flights by 2013 and the non-stop global flight by 2014.

Solar Impulse's Chief Executive Officer and pilot Andre Borschberg flies in the solar-powered HB-SIA prototype airplane during its first successful night flight attempt at Payerne airport July 8, 2010. The aircraft took off July 7 at 06:51 am and reached an altitude of 8,700 meters (28,543 feet) by the end of the day. It then slowly descent to 1,500 meters (4,921 feet) and flew during the night on the batteries, charged during the day by 12,000 solar cells, which powered the four electric motors. It landed July 8 at 09.00 am (GMT+2) for a flight time of 26 hours and 9 minutes, setting the longest and highest flight ever made by a solar plane. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse (SWITZERLAND - Tags: TRANSPORT SCI TECH ENVIRONMENT IMAGES OF THE DAY)

But first, more test flights in Switzerland. The next three flights will take place in Switzerland beginning later this month. Teams will be trained for coordinating with air traffic controllers across the globe for future long distance flights. Pilot Andre Borschberg will fly from Payerne to Geneva, then on to Zurich, and then back to Payerne. In July, Borschberg set a record for a 26-hour non-stop powered flight.

The Solar Impulse may be a one-seat plane, but it is large. With a wingspan equal that of a Boeing 777 passenger jet, about 205 feet. The plane is about 70 feet long and weighs just about one and a half tons. Four 10 horse-power electric motors provides the thrust to achieve a speed of about 44 MPH. Not exactly break-neck, but twice that needed to get the aircraft off the ground.

The tops of the wings and the stabilizer are coated with over 11,000 solar cells. Four pods hold the electric motors and the composite lithium batteries. The batteries are, apart from the structure of the plane, the heaviest item and major restraint. They represent one-quarter of the overall weight of the plane, nearly 900 pounds.

As the Solar Impulse plane prepares for more test flights in Switzerland, crews ensure that it is ready to go. Capable of flying at an altitude of over 27,000 feet, the solar-powered aircraft has already set a new record for non-stop electric flight of 26 hours. The single-seat plane will most likely be flown by pilot Andre Borschberg, again, for the next series of long-distance test flights.

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