Driverless cars dominate all the headlines these days, but not many are talking about a (conventional) fuel-free airplane that began its maiden around-the-world voyage from Abu Dhabi on Monday.
With no aviation fuel in its tanks, the Swiss plane is completely powered through solar energy. It has just embarked upon what will be a landmark achievement in aviation history – provided that things go as planned.
Named Solar Impulse 2, the prototype aircraft weighs the same as an average car, but has a wingspan longer than even a Boeing 747. Its wings are equipped with 17,000 solar cells, which store the sun's energy and let the plane fly even at night.
This solar-powered plane is the result of Swiss scientists Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg's 12 years of hard work. The two aviators were on board when Si2 took off a few hours ago, with Borschberg manning the rudder.
If successful, the trip could potentially revolutionize aviation industry, but Piccard and Borschberg say that's not what they're after. Instead, their aim is to silence those who believe alternative energy can never do what conventional energy can.
This isn't Piccard and Borschberg's first foray in solar-powered aircraft projects. Back in 2009, they successfully demonstrated Solar Impulse 1's capabilities in a successful nine-hour flight. A few more test flights later, they began developing its double-seated successor, which is currently on its way to Muscat, Oman.
Si2 is expected to complete its world tour in around five months' time.
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