An experimental solar aircraft has made history by becoming the first of its kind to complete a 19 hour flight. The Solar Impulse took off from Spain – Madrid and landed at Rabat’s International airport in Morocco.
Bertrand Piccard, its Swiss pilot, said the target was not about “using solar energy for normal aircraft but to prove that we can achieve incredible, almost impossible objectives with new technologies without fossil fuels”.
“The aircraft can now fly day and night. It’s quite a show… it’s a technology we can trust,” he said.
The Solar Impulse project began in 2003 with a 10-year budget of $115 million and has involved engineers from Swiss lift maker Schindler and research aid from Belgian chemicals group Solvay.
On Tuesday, the aircraft crossed the Gibraltar Strait separating Africa and Europe at one of its narrowest points.
The flight is crucial for the project’s developers because it will help improve the organisation of a world tour planned in 2013.
“The flight was absolutely wonderful but I almost did not enjoy it because I told myself that Andre and I have the responsibility to bring this aircraft to Morocco,” Mr Piccard said.
The plane, which requires 12,000 solar cells, embarked on its first flight in April 2010 and three months later it completed a 26-hour flight, a record flying time for a solar powered aircraft.
With an average flying speed of 70 kilometres per hour, Solar Impulse is not an immediate threat to commercial jets, which can easily cruise at more than 10 times the speed.