Solar Power Goes Dual

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A California company says it's the first to fly a passenger in a solar-powered airplane. Solar Flight, of Ramona, Calif., launched its Sunseeker Duo from Milan, Italy, with both of the company's founders, Irena and Eric Raymond, in the spacious side-by-side cabin.  "Sunseeker Duo is now officially the first solar powered airplane to carry two people," the company said in a news release after the May 30 flight. Details of the first flight weren't released but the company says the next test is a 100-mile cross country to a neighboring airport in Italy. If they're right, the Raymonds believe the aircraft will have an endurance of 12 hours on solar power.

The aircraft has high aspect ratio wings and most of the upper surfaces are lined with solar cells that feed a battery pack. The 25 Kwh tail-mounted motor draws energy from the battery, which is, in turn, charged by the solar array. It uses battery power alone for takeoff and the sun sustains it in cruise. Fuel economy notwithstanding, the Sunseeker has some important other attributes, said Irena Raymond. "It's so quiet compared to a normal airplane," she said. "You can speak normally even when the motor is running full power, no headset needed."