Solar Impulse Sun-Powered Plane Flies Back to Europe From Africa

Solar Impulse, Switzerland’s experimental sun-powered aircraft that uses no fuel, flew back to Europe today from the Moroccan city of Rabat, taking off at dawn with a landing expected about midnight in Madrid, Spain.

The single-pilot craft with a wingspan of an Airbus 340 has been flown on alternative legs by Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg, powered by 12,000 solar cells integrated into the wing that supply four 10-horsepower motors with the energy that charges lithium batteries during the day and allows the plane to fly all night.

The carbon-fiber HB-SIA has traveled more than 4,000 kilometers (2,500 miles) without fuel since May 24 from a military field at Payerne outside the Swiss capital of Bern via Madrid, passing Gibraltar, to the southern Morocco desert town of Ouarzazate over the Atlas Mountains.

The craft flew north along Morocco’s Atlantic coast into southern Spain today and followed a course near the Portugal-Spain border at altitudes up to 7,800 meters (25,700 feet) with an average speed of about 48 kilometers per hour, Solar Impulse’s website showed.

“With this flight to Morocco, we have validated the capacity of the airplane to fly through difficult regions,” said Borschberg, co-founder of Solar Impulse.

The 100 million-franc ($102 million) Solar Impulse project has been supported by Solvay SA, Swatch Group’s Omega, Deutsche Bank AG and Schindler Holding AG along with Bayer AG’s Material Science unit, Altran Technologies SA, Swisscom AG, the EPFL institute in Lausanne and Dassault Aviation SA.

Piccard and co-pilot Brian Jones in 1999 became the first to fly around Earth in a hot-air balloon, starting from Switzerland and landing almost 20 days later in Egypt. Solar Impulse organizers hope to pilot a new model of the sun-powered craft around the world in 2014.

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