Following the construction of a solar-powered plane which set records flying across the United States last year, the Swiss team behind Solar Impulse has now set a new, more worldly goal: launch a solar plane that can circle the globe.
Co-founders and pilots Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschber unveiled the new 72-meter-wide plane, Solar Impulse 2, Wednesday at the Payerne Air Field in Switzerland. With a wingspan that is 8 meters longer than its predecessor, the Solar Impulse 2 is also lighter and faster than the original Solar Impulse plane.
Solar Impulse 2 is scheduled to start test flights in the spring, with a round-the-world flight planned between April and July 2015.
Borschber said the new airplane's updates include wider wingspan, lighter materials, more efficient engine, and an upgraded cabin.
Here, the cockpit of the new Solar Impulse 2 goes through testing.
With a 72-meter wingspan, Solar Impulse 2 is just slightly wider than a Boeing 747.
The Solar Impulse 2 wings are seen here under construction last year. Borschber said the wings are made with a material that is one-third the weight of printer paper. The wings are fitted with about 17,000 solar cells that are 135 microns thick.
The cockpit of Solar Impulse 2 is seen here under construction.
The team plans to take off from somewhere in the Persian Gulf region, and fly over the Arabian Sea, India, Burma, China, the Pacific Ocean, the United States, the Atlantic Ocean, and then southern Europe or North Africa, before returning to the starting point.
"A vision counts for nothing unless it is backed up by action," said Piccard in a statement. "With 8 world records for Solar Impulse 1, the first solar aircraft capable of flying during the night, crossing two continents and flying over the United States, we have shown that clean technologies and renewable energies can accomplish the impossible."
Solar Impulse 2 is scheduled to start test flights in the spring, with a round-the-world flight planned between April and July 2015. Borschberg said the trip will take 20 days, spread out over several months.