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Energy breakthrough Solar plane ends first intercontinental flight

Solar Impulse, a huge experimental solar-powered plane, landed in Morocco's capital late on Tuesday night after a 20-hour trip from Madrid in the first transcontinental journey by a craft of its type.

"It was perhaps the most beautiful flight of my life, I have dreamed since I was a child of flying without using fuel," said Swiss pilot Bertrand Piccard, who has already circumnavigated the world by balloon, on arrival at Rabat’s International airport.

The single-seat aircraft is fitted with 12,000 solar cells across its dragonfly-like wings but only weighs as much as the average family car.

The plane is the first of its kind to fly both during the night and day as the solar panels charge the batteries for night flying.

Piccard said the Solar Impulse project had chosen Morocco because of its ambitious plans to increase its reliance on solar power.

"We came here out of admiration for Morocco's pioneering solar energy program," he said. "All of the technology on this plane can be used in daily life."

Solar Impulse arrived in Madrid from Switzerland in late May on the first leg of the journey, but the plane was delayed for several days by bad weather before it could continue its journey to Morocco.

The two-leg Europe to Africa trip covered 2,500 kilometres.The intercontinental adventure is seen as a final dress rehearsal for a round-the-world flight with a new and improved plane in 2014 that will involve five stops.

The project began in 2003 and is estimated to cost about $100 million (SFr95.8 million) over ten years. It embarked on its first flight in April 2010 and completed a 26-hour flight, a record flying time for a solar powered aircraft, three months later.

swissinfo.ch with agencies


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