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Solar Impulse returns home after nearly 4,000 miles

August 2, 2012, 04:25 pm

The Solar Impulse, a solar-powered airplane, recently made it home to Switzerland after flying more than 3,600 miles in the last two months.

The plane was the first solar-powered aircraft to make an intercontinental round-trip. The plane traveled from Europe to Africa beginning on May 24, in order to assess its endurance and reliability. The team also wanted to raise public awareness about energy issues.

"The goal of this airplane is not just to go from one point to another, but to fly as long as we wish, promote renewable energy and ambitious energy policies," said pilot Bertrand Piccard, founder of Solar Impulse, during the intercontinental flight. "All of these have been so successful."

The plane is made of carbon fiber in the shape of an Airbus A340. It weighs about as much as an average-sized car due to its special design and its solar power system; the light design is equipped with 12,000 solar cells powering four different motors. It traveled eight legs with Piccard periodically switching pilot duties with Andre Borschberg. The pilots would fly during the day, often taking off and landing at night to avoid areas known as thermals, which have high amounts of turbulence. The team stated that almost every time the plane returned to the hangar, it would have full batteries.

The plane proved it could fly during the day and at night, once having flown a 26-hour flight. It is now in the process of receiving numerous world records for solar aircraft, including straight distances, free distance and distance along a course.

"It’s been an extraordinary adventure, not only for what we’ve achieved with this airplane, originally only designed to demonstrate the possibility of flying day and night with a purely solar energy, but also for what has resulted in a tightly fused team, confident in the project and in their capacity to make it happen,” said Borschberg, Solar Impulse's CEO. "I am proud what we’ve been able to accomplish together, all of us, from the engineers that have built a fantastic airplane, to the mission team experts that found a safe but successful strategy, to the ground crew who had to operate in challenging conditions and the multimedia team who under any circumstance brought the message of the project to the public."

Piccard added that among the team's greatest successes are its positive emotions the members managed to bring to the cause of renewable energies. Pilots inspired by the Impulse should always buy pilot life insurance before taking the skies.

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