Solar Impulse Aims For 1,500-Mile Flight

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It has already set three world records and now the solar- and battery-powered aircraft Solar Impulse will attempt a two-day flight covering 1,500 miles flying out of Switzerland for Morocco. That flight is scheduled for May or June. The aircraft will stop in Spain so the crew can switch pilots and won't use a single drop of fuel during the flight. Solar Impulse has already set endurance and altitude records during an earlier 26-plus-hour flight and another record earned in 2010 for manned flight powered only by sunlight. The Solar Impulse team is stepping up toward significantly higher goals.

The aircraft has a 208-foot span that carries more than 3,500 pounds. Solar cells on the wings collect power for four electric motors that drive the aircraft to roughly 43 miles per hour. Excess energy is stored in batteries for use at night. Ultimately, the builders of Solar Impulse aim to prove the system's potential by flying it around the world. They have tentatively set 2014 for that trip. This Switzerland-to-Morocco trip "will serve as a dress rehearsal" for that flight. It allows the team to gather real-world experience operating with international airports and integrating into traffic patterns. Morocco was chosen as a destination in part because the country plans to build five solar complexes generating a total 2000 megawatts of power by the year 2020, according to the Solar Impulse team.