After delays due to unfavourable weather conditions, the Swiss Solar Impulse aircraft has finally begun its five month around-the-world flight attempt, taking off from Abu Dhabi airport on Monday morning. Its first destination was Muscat in Oman.
The solar-powered plane took off shortly after sunrise at 7:12am (3:12am Swiss time) from Abu Dhabi’s Bateen Executive Airport with pilot André Borschberg at the controls. It landed in 400km away in Muscat, capital of the Sultanate of Oman, exactly 12 hours later.
The world tour was supposed to begin on Saturday but strong winds prevailing over the weekend kept the plane grounded in Abu Dhabi.
Monday’s take off marks the start of a 35,000km voyage that is expected to last until August. It will fly eastwards towards the Arabian Sea, India, Myanmar, China, the Pacific Ocean, the United States, the Atlantic Ocean, southern Europe, and North Africa before returning to its starting point in Abu Dhabi.
Its biggest challenge will undoubtedly be crossing the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. To achieve the crossings the plane will have to fly non-stop for 120 hours - or five days and nights – a feat it has not yet attempted.
The journey has been 12 years in the making in terms of research and development, as well as financing. While the majority of funding comes from private partners, the Swiss government has also pitched in, in return for worldwide publicity the plane is likely to attract.
The Swiss foreign ministry is supporting and promoting Solar Impulse under the slogan "Solar Impulse, an idea born in Switzerland" and wants it to be “seen as an ambassador for a future world where nature and the climate are respected”.
"I applaud this pioneering venture, which will show our younger generations that a world we thought impossible to attain is now within our grasp. Progress and respect for our planet. That is the message Switzerland is giving with Solar Impulse," said Swiss foreign minister Didier Burkhalter in a statement on Monday.
Swissmint, the Swiss federal mint, announced on Monday that it will issue a commemorative Solar Impulse coin to mark the world record attempt. The silver coin will be worth CHF20.