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Balloonist Seeks Solar First...

Swiss adventurer Bertrand Piccard, who in 1999 was the first to fly nonstop around the world in a balloon, announced Friday he has set his sights on a new project -- to develop an airplane both powered by the sun and capable of circling the earth. Piccard's co-pilot on the 1999 flight, British balloonist Brian Jones, will join the effort, dubbed Solar Impulse. Piccard expects first flight of his prototype in 2006, and solar flights of several days' duration by 2009. The plane (depicted thus far to look very much like a high-performance sailplane) will be very light, with a wingspan of about 197 feet, and will be capable of flying at around 30,000 feet. "We hope to change the mentality of those who too often ignore the difficult questions of our future energy needs," Piccard said, adding that the project aims to increase public interest in sustainable development and renewable resources. "To be able to build and fly an aircraft that uses no fossil fuels and emits no pollutants is a powerful symbol for today's ecology. We envision that Solar Impulse will serve as a communication platform to promote sustainable development and demonstrate the fundamental role of high technology in the protection of the environment." The Swiss Federal Institute for Technology in Lausanne will act as scientific partner.