Solar Airplane Project Gains Momentum

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The Solar Impulse project, which aims to build a solar-powered aircraft that can fly around the world, has begun to attract attention from the mainstream press, as a perceived "race" with another solar-powered craft heats up (pun intended). The Solar Impulse group, based in Switzerland and headed by Bertrand Piccard, plans to build a single-seat, solar-powered long-distance aircraft. The design phase is already well underway and first flights are expected as soon as 2008. The Planet Solar project, also based in Switzerland, now has expressed the goal to be the first to get round the planet in a solar-powered craft -- although it would go by water instead of by air. The strange-looking three-hulled 90-foot-long ship would be covered in photovoltaic cells that would drive it across the waves at about 10 knots. So far, the plan is in the computer-modeling phase. The Solar Impulse Web site says the project has acquired over 80 percent of the financing needed to start construction.