Solar Plane Completes First International Flight

Solar Plane Completes First International Flight

As the airline industry tests greener alternatives to jet fuel, the leaders of the Solar Impulse project are pushing ahead with their plan to put planes in the sky that do not use fuel at all.

Powered only by solar energy, the prototype plane Solar Impulse HB-SIA completed its first international flight -- a trip from Switzerland to Belgium that spanned 340 nautical miles and lasted just a minute less than 13 hours.

With CEO and project co-founder André Borschberg at the controls, the Solar Impulse HB-SIA took off at 8:40 a.m. Friday from Payerne airbase in Switzerland and landed at 9:39 that night at Brussels Airport.

"It's unbelievably exciting to land here in Brussels, at the heart of Europe, after flying across France and Luxemburg,"  said Borschberg after completing the flight. "And to fly without fuel, noise or pollution, making practically no negative impact, is a great source of satisfaction."

The firm included Borschberg's statement in its account of the flight. During the trip, the Solar Impulse maintained an average speed of 27 knots (about 50 kilometers per hour) and an average altitude of 6,000 feet (1,828 meters), according to the company.

The international trip comes 14 months after the Solar Impulse's maiden flight -- an 87-minute test flight in the skies above Payerne on April 7, 2010. The next milestone was a more than 26-hour flight that began shortly before 7 a.m. last July 7 and ended just after 9 a.m. the next day -- which proved the craft could successfully fly through the night using energy stored during the day.

Borschberg and Solar Impulse Chairman and project initiator Bertrand Piccard received the Swiss Solar Prize for their work last September. And in December, the Solar Impulse won European Solar Prize 2010 in the Transport and Mobility category.

The maiden international flight brought the Solar Impulse to Belgium with time to spare before Europe's Renewable Energy Policy Conference, which begins next week in Brussels. The Solar Impulse is to be the featured attraction for a special evening event during the conference: a dinner in the hangar housing the aircraft at the Brussels Airport.

Brussels Airport Company CEO Arnaud Feist expressed delight that his facility was chosen as the destination for the Solar Impulse's first international flight.

"This airplane, the first to function without fossil fuel and without emitting CO2, symbolizes the great efforts the aeronautical industry is making to develop new technologies for energy saving and increased use of renewable energies," Feist said in a statement.

"Given Brussels Airport's own ambition to continue reducing our CO2 emissions, we attach particular importance to solar energy generation projects."

The Solar Impulse also is expected at the Paris Airshow in June. Other milestones in the offing for the Solar Impulse are its first trans-Atlantic flight, projected for 2012, and circumnavigation of the world in 2013, a trip that is expected to feature the next iteration of a Solar Impulse prototype.

Image from Solar Impulse via solarimpulse.com.