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Solar plane completes intercontinental test flight

Solar Impulse lands in Morocco after two-leg journey from Switzerland, highlighting the latter country's solar ambitions.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor on

The Solar Impulse, an airplane that can fly completely on solar energy, completed the second leg of a test flight that saw it travel from Switzerland to Morocco. The achievement is significant because it marks the first time the plane has been flown from one continent to another.

The flight originated at the Madrid-Barajas airport in Spain and took 19 hours, and 8 minutes. Morocco was chosen in part because of its ambitious solar development plans. The Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy (MASEN) plans several projects including five solar parks that could produce a capacity of 2000 megawatts by 2020.

"This flight marks a new stage in the history of the project because we have reached a new continent," said Andre Borschberg, the engineer who is Solar Impulse's CEO, in a statement about the mission. "Furthermore, after almost 20 hours of flight, we landed with a full set of batteries. This is extraordinary as it represents an increase in confidence in new technologies."

The first portion of the Solar Impulse journey started in Payerne, Switzerland; it took approximately 17 hours for the first leg to be completed.

As you can see from the photo, it doesn't have to be sunny for the solar plane to fly. The project has taken about seven years to reach this stage, based on the work of more than 70 engineers and Solar Impulse team members and close to 80 different partners that have contributed components such as the carbon fiber that makes up its body.

The plan integrates 12,000 solar cells that run four electric motors and charge the lithium polymer batteries that enable the Solar Impulse to keep flying at night. The plane has a wingspan that is as wide as an Airbus A340 and it weighs about the same as a family car, according to the Solar Impulse team.

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