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Swiss Team Unveils Prototype for Sun-powered Plane

A Swiss team has demonstrated a prototype for a solar-powered airplane called the Solar Impulse, intended as a prototype for a round-the-world solar-powered flight. The airplane, whose weight is less than that of a small car but whose wingspan rivals the Boeing 747’s, was shown at a military airfield near Zurich by adventurer Bertrand Piccard and his co-pilot Andre Borschberg.

The Solar Impulse will be used for various test flights in the next two years to prepare for construction of a new plane set to fly around the world in 2012. "Yesterday it was a dream, today it is an airplane, tomorrow it will be an ambassador of renewable energies," said Piccard. The engines provide only 40 horsepower and an average flight speed of 44 miles per hour, and unlike Piccard’s record-setting first nonstop balloon flight around the world, the solar-powered circumnavigation will include stops for rest and switching pilots.

"You can see it’s really small," Borschberg said of the airplane’s cockpit. "Thirty-six hours is already a challenge. It tests your patience." The Solar Impulse will make its first test flights this year and is set to do a complete night voyage next year.

July 13, 2009

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