Solar plane starts second leg of epic round-the-world bid

MUSCAT (AFP) - Solar Impulse 2 took off from Oman Tuesday bound for India, on the second leg of its epic bid to become the first plane to fly around the world powered solely by the sun.

The aircraft took off from Muscat at 6.35 am (10:35 am Singapore time) for what is expected to be a 16-hour, 1,465-kilometre journey over the Arabian Sea to Ahmedabad in India.

Pilot Bertrand Piccard was at the controls, taking over from fellow Swiss aviator Andre Borschberg. "I will remember #Oman forever!" Piccard tweeted prior to take-off.

More than two hours after leaving Muscat, Piccard was over the Arabian Sea, according to a website monitoring his progress.

On Monday Borschberg had touched down in Muscat after the first leg of the journey, 13 hours and two minutes after leaving Abu Dhabi.

"The adventure has started," Solar Impulse chairman Piccard, 57, said just after Borschberg took off in the early morning from Abu Dhabi's Al-Bateen airport, on a journey that the aviation industry ridiculed when it was first unveiled.

Borschberg spoke of an "emotional" trip, telling reporters in Muscat he cruised at 6,000 metres because the trip was "short".

Piccard is set to fly higher on the trip to Ahmedabad, Borschberg said.

UN chief Ban Ki Moon hailed the venture and congratulated the pilots.

"With their daring and determination, we can all fly into a new sustainable future," his spokesman said.


Si2's takeoff, which had originally been scheduled for Saturday but was delayed by high winds, capped 13 years of research and testing by the two Swiss pilots.

The pair are hoping the project will boost technology and awareness surrounding environmentally sustainable transport.

Live video streaming on the website monitoring the unique aircraft's progress showed the pilot, wearing an orange jumpsuit, breathing using an oxygen mask.

The wingspan of the one-seater Si2 is slightly bigger than that of a jumbo jet, but its weight is around that of a family car.

From Muscat, it will make 12 stops on an epic journey spread over five months, with a total flight time of around 25 days.

Later legs will take it to Myanmar, China, Hawaii and New York.

Landings are also earmarked for the midwestern United States and either southern Europe or North Africa, depending on the weather conditions.

The longest single leg will see a lone pilot fly non-stop for five days and nights across the Pacific Ocean between Nanjing, China and Hawaii, a distance of 8,500 kilometres.


Borschberg and Piccard will alternate flying the plane, which can fly on autopilot during rest breaks.

Both pilots have undergone intensive training in preparation for the trip, including in yoga and self-hypnosis, allowing them to sleep for periods as short as 20 minutes but still awake feeling refreshed.

All this will happen without burning a drop of fuel.

While in the air, the pilots will be linked to a control centre in Monaco where 65 weathermen, air traffic controllers and engineers will be stationed. A team of 65 ground staff will travel with the two pilots.

The plane is powered by more than 17,000 solar cells built into wings that, at 72 metres, are longer than on a Boeing 747 and approaching those of an Airbus A380 superjumbo.

Thanks to an innovative design, the lightweight carbon fibre aircraft weighs only 2.3 tonnes, about the same as a family 4X4 and less than 1 percent of the weight of the A380.

The Si2 is the first solar-powered aircraft able to stay aloft for several days and nights.

The propeller-driven craft has four 17.5-horsepower electric motors with rechargeable lithium batteries.

It will travel at 50-100 kilometres per hour, but slower at night to prevent the batteries from draining too quickly.

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