Solar-Powered Plane Completes International Flight

The Solar Impulse completes the first solar powered international flight from Belgium to Switzerland in 13 hours.

The solar eagle has landed onto record history, with the Solar Impulse setting down at Brussels' main airport, after a 13-hour international flight on May 12th. The historic flight began in Switzerland at 8:40 (11:40 p.m PST), cruised at 12,400 feet going an average 43 mph, and finally land at in Belgium at 21:38 (12:38 p.m. PST).

The Solar Impulse itself has 12,000 solar cells covering its 208-foot-long wings (that's as wide as a jumbo jet), but the entire body is made in part of carbon fiber, which brings it's weight to 3527 pounds--about the same as a typical four-door sedan. The plane's solar skin is manufactured by SunPower and scientists at Neuchâtel University is extremely thin, measuring only 150-microns thick, but manages to produce about 1000 watts.

The Impulse also packs some pretty fancy battery chemistry, courtesy of South Korean-based Kokam, who produced a new lithium polymer battery with nearly double the energy density. All the power goes to its four power sipping 10-horsepower engines, which are usually limited to 8 HP or 6kW.

The Solar Impulse project was first taken on as a challenge by its creators, Bertrand Piccard (yes he's a captain and yes he does sort of look like Patrick Steward) and Andre Borschber, in 2003. The team hopes to complete a five-stage flight around the world starting in 2012.

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