Solar Impulse, the manned solar-powered airplane, began a 1,554-mile trip from Switzerland to Morocco, Thursday and landed safely after a 17-hour first leg at its planned layover site of Madrid. The 3,500-pound vehicle is carried by a 207-foot wingspan. It is propelled by batteries and 12,000 solar cells driving four electric motors. Pilot Andre Borschberg was at the controls for the first leg of the journey and reportedsubstantiated confidence in the technology. It was incredible to fly alongside the barrier of clouds during most of the flight and not need to hesitate to fly above them. This confirms our confidence in the capacity of solar energy even further. Monday, after a three-day layover to check the condition of the aircraft and make promotional visits, Bertrand Piccard is scheduled to take the controls for the next leg. Weather permitting, Piccard's leg will see completion of the journey in Morocco. The trip is just a small step toward the team's long term goals.
The Solar Impulse team became the first to operate a manned aircraft for more than 26 hours powered by batteries and energy acquired from the sun. The flight set endurance and altitude records. Another was earned in 2010 for manned flight powered only by sunlight. The team intends to punctuate all that with an around-the-world flight presently scheduled for 2014. The Switzerland-to-Morocco trip will allow the team to gather more real-world flight experience while promoting solar power. Morocco was chosen as a destination in part because of its plans to build five solar complexes generating 2000 megawatts of power by 2020.