Solar Plane Takes Flight with First International Trip

The speed — 50 kilometers per hour — may not have been impressive, but the amount of emissions — zero — was historic.

The Solar Impulse HB-SIA safely and cleanly traversed 630 kilometers from Payerne, Switzerland to Brussels in May in the solar airplane’s first international flight.

Traveling at about 6,000 feet, pilot and project co-founder André Borschberg made the trip in just under 13 hours with few difficulties.

“It’s a spectacular flight,” he said. “The take off was a little challenging because we had to rush due to air traffic activity. Consequently, I needed a little bit of time to get everything in order.”

Flight Director Raymond Clerc and his team were able to support the pilot throughout the flight from the mission control center in Payerne.

“This airplane — the first to function without fossil fuel and without emitting CO2 — symbolizes the great efforts the aeronautical industry is making to develop new technologies for energy saving and increased use of renewable energies,” said Arnaud Feist, the CEO of Brussels Airport Company. “The European airport sector is also very active in developing its activities in a responsible and durable manner. Given Brussels Airport’s own ambition to continue reducing our CO2 emissions, we attach particular importance to solar energy generation projects.”

Seven years in the making, the carbon fiber airplane has a wingspan as wide as that of an Airbus A340 (63.4 meters) and a weight equivalent to that of an average family car. It is the largest airplane of its weight ever built. The 12,000 solar cells integrated into the upper wing surface supply four electric motors with energy and charge the 400kg lithium polymer batteries during the day, enabling the aircraft to fly at night.

To view the solar plane in its first flight, watch the video below.

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