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Solar Impulse Makes Maiden Flight

Solar Impulse
The April 7 Solar Impulse maiden flight lasted nearly 90 minutes, reaching an altitude of about 4,000 feet. Credit:  Solar Impulse

April 7, 2010 — It’s not the first flight of a solar energy-powered aircraft, but today’s flight of the Solar Impulse HB-SIA marks the next stage of an ambitious quest to fly the plane around the world.  Thousands of people were on hand at Switzerland’s Payerne (VD) airfield to watch the first significant flight of the aircraft after several “flea hops” in the past few months. The Solar Impulse climbed slowly to 4,000 feet and spent nearly 90 minutes in the air as test pilot Markus Scherdel put the aircraft through its test program.

“This first flight was for me a very intense moment!” Scherdel exclaimed stepping down from the aircraft after the flight. “The HB-SIA behaved just as the flight simulator told us. Despite its immense size and feather weight, the aircraft’s controllability matches our expectations!”

The aircraft lifted off at just under 30 mph and the four 10-horsepower electric motors are expected to deliver enough power for a cruise speed of around 40 to 45 mph. After more day flights the development team will begin night flight testing, which is key since the aircraft will be aloft for as long as five days at a time during its around-the-world attempt. Project coordinators André Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard say that the Solar Impulse is intended to demonstrate how existing technologies can be used to employ renewable energy and save natural resources.

To learn more about the project, visit www.solarimpulse.com.

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