Solar Impulse Unveils Globe-Circling Aircraft

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Pilots Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg

Pilots Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg

On Wednesday, the Solar Impulse team, based in Switzerland, introduced their new solar-powered aircraft, which they plan to fly around the world in 2015. Solar Impulse 2 is even bigger than the team's first aircraft, which flew across the U.S. last year. It's built from carbon composites, with a wingspan that stretches 236 feet. The airplane carries more than 17,000 solar cells, which will power batteries that enable the aircraft to fly through the night. Test flights will start within the next few weeks. The round-the-world flight, scheduled to start between March and July next year, will include legs that last up to five days and nights nonstop to cross the oceans, at speeds up to 87 mph.

"It's the most incredible airplane of its time," said Bertrand Piccard, president and co-pilot of the Solar Impulse venture, at the unveiling. "It's not the easiest way to fly around the world," he said, "but it's probably the most spectacular way we can achieve today to really attract the awareness of the political world, the media, the industries, the economy, to show what we can do with renewable energy." Swiss and European industries have backed the project with $124 million over the past 10 years, and last year, Google joined the project as a partner.

All images courtesy of Solar Impulse

All images courtesy of Solar Impulse