May 17, 2011
By Alton K. Marsh
Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg are a step closer to their goal of circling the Earth, nonstop, in a solar-powered airplane. In mid-May, the delicate craft flew from Switzerland to Brussels, Belgium. The aircraft flew 340 nautical miles in 13 hours at 27 knots.
There are still a few big steps remaining like the development of the final record challenger aircraft (similar to the one flying now) and oceanic flights. Yet the present craft has done everything asked of it, including flying all night on battery power alone. It will circle the globe by climbing and recharging its batteries during the day, slowly descending on battery power at night, bobbing among altitudes like a yo-yo until it has circumnavigated the world.
The craft departed the Payerne aerodrome in Switzerland, crossed Alsace and Nancy, then Metz, before overflying Luxemburg and arriving at Brussels Airport. It has no other form of power other than solar cells and batteries. A satellite communication system kept the pilot in touch with Payerne.
Borschberg was at the controls and flew most of the time at 6,000 feet. “It's a spectacular flight,” he said afterward. “The take off was a little challenging because we had to rush due to air traffic activity; consequently I needed a little bit of time to get everything in order before I could become [serene]. It was little bit northeast wind during takeoff; however this was not a major problem.”
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