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Solar Impulse Completes 1st International Flight

May 13, 2011—Friday the 13th. Usually the date signifies bad luck. But Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg certainly don’t believe that.

Why else would Solar Impulse HB-SIA make its first international flight from Switzerland to Belgium on Friday, May 13, powered only by solar energy?

The prototype, piloted by Borschberg, took off from
Payerne airfield at 0640 GMT and climbed to an altitude of 11,800 feet or 3,600 meters. The plane first headed for France, passed over Luxembourg and landed at Brussels Airport, which is about 300 miles away, about 12 hours later.

People around the world who tracked the flight live on www.solarimpulse.com and via a smartphone app were able to see the airplane’s position, altitude and speed, as well as views from inside the cockpit and in the mission control center.

HB-SIA had to go into a holding pattern when it reached Brussels National Airport, waiting for a break in traffic at the busy airport.

“I feel relieved,” Piccard told the Associated Press after landing. “For the last month, my biggest nightmare was ... that the plane would not arrive due to technical problems or due to weather problems.

“We always hoped it would become an ambassador for renewable energy,” he said. “In the 20th century, every step of aviation was a historic one (and now) Solar Impulse is also making history.”

Belgian Crown Prince Phillipe followed the solar plane in a helicopter, which filmed the approach and landing, and broadcast it live on the team’s website.

Solar Impulse HB-SIA, which has the wingspan of a large airliner but weighs only about 3,500 pounds, made history in July 2010 as the first manned plane to fly around the clock and through the night on the sun’s energy. HB-SIA relies on 12,000 solar cells on its 210-feet wings to charge the batteries that provide the energy for the 10-horsepower electric motors driving four propellers.

Solar Impulse will be displayed at the Brussels airport until May 29, and then will fly to Paris for the Paris Air Show at Le Bourget from June 20-26.

The Solar Impulse team is planning to fly even further, including possible Transamerica, Transatlantic and around-the-world flights—in stages—in 2013 and 2014 using a slightly larger aircraft, The Inquirer reported.


The Solar Impulse HB-SIA flew about 12 hours to complete its first international flight on May 13, 2011. Photo credit: EPA/LAURENT GILLIERON

The Solar Impulse HB-SIA, with Solar Impulse’s Chief Executive Officer and pilot Andre Borschberg, right, and Solar Impulse’s team chief Bertrand Piccard, is prepared to take off for its first international flight to Brussels.

People could watch the progress of Andre Borschberg’s flight online, thanks to web cams in the cockpit and mission control center.

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