The outlook is sunny for an experimental solar aircraft set to circumnavigate the globe next year, after it has successfully made its maiden flight.
The Solar Impulse 2 HB-SIB took off from Payerne airbase in Switzerland today and successfully soared above the clouds for more than an hour before landing safely.
The solar-powered plane has no fuel on board and with a wingspan of 236ft (72 metres), it is larger than a Boeing 747-8I jet liner. It weighs around the same as a car at 382 stone (2,300kg).
It is set to become the first solar-powered plane to fly around the world thanks to its vast wings covered in 17,000 solar cells, which supply four electric motors.
German test pilot Markus Scherdel flew the cutting-edge machine, which is the second solar plane in the Solar Impulse Project. He also flew the first prototype aircraft in 2009.
Writing in a blog on the Solar Impulse website, the team said: ‘It is a great moment for everyone who has built this revolutionary solar airplane…
‘All of this hard work to reach next year our ultimate goal: the attempt of the first round-the-world solar flight… only powered by solar energy’.
The solar aircraft of Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg is a single-seater and was flown for over one hour ‘in line with calculations and simulations,’ Solar Impulse said.
The two co-founders of the project will pilot the plane themselves for a record-breaking attempt in 2015.
Before then, there will be several other flights taking place in the coming months so that the plane can be obtain certification.
Mr Borschberg, co-founder, pilot and CEO of Solar Impulse, said: ‘This inaugural flight is an important stage – a step closer towards the round-the-world flight.
‘It is also a huge emotional step for the entire team and all our partners who have worked on the aircraft. Si2 incorporates a vast amount of new technology to render it more efficient, reliable and in particular better adapted to long haul flights. It is the first aircraft which will have almost unlimited endurance.’
Mr Piccard, founder, president and pilot, said: ‘Throughout such an innovative project, each stage is a leap into the unknown. Today suspense was at a high!
‘The results show that our team of engineers can be very proud of the work it has accomplished during the last 10 years.’