The Solar Impulse 2 aircraft – the second edition of the Swiss solar-powered plane – took its inaugural flight on Monday morning from its base in Payerne, western Switzerland.
Propelled by four electric motors powered by 17,200 solar cells, the aircraft stayed in the air for two hours and 15 minutes, reaching an altitude of 2,400 metres, organisers said.
Before testing this second edition of their solar plane, pilots André Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard accumulated many hours of flight time in Solar Impulse 1, which flew across Europe to Morocco and crossed the United States last year. In 2010, the solar airplane flew for 26 hours without landing, proving its ability to store enough electricity in its solar cells during the day to continue flying at night.
After an extensive testing and preparation phase, Solar Impulse 2 lifted off at 5:36am Swiss time on Monday morning.
With the second prototype, the pilots expect to be able to fly 120 hours continuously, or five days and five nights. That flight time would allow them to cross the Pacific or Atlantic Ocean without landing.
Borschberg and Piccard plan to take Solar Impulse 2 on an around-the-world flight next year.