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Piccard launches solar adventure

Bertrand Piccard's journey around the world will be powered by the sun

(Keystone)

The Swiss adventurer, Bertrand Piccard, has announced plans to fly around the world in a solar-powered plane.

The world record attempt – to be launched in 2007 – is backed by the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne.

The aircraft will resemble a large glider, with a 150m² wingspan, almost as large as that of a Boeing 747.

Its entire surface will be covered with solar panels, and the tail will be flanked by two propellers.

The aircraft, which is expected to fly by day and night, will – according to the launch publicity – be “light, intelligent and multifunctional”.

The aim of the “Solar Impulse” project, says Piccard, is to demonstrate the role of renewable energy sources in sustainable development.

Research team

A team of around 30 scientists is already working on the project at the Lausanne institute, which has also provided scientific advice to Switzerland's Alinghi sailing team.

Vice-president of research, Stefan Catsicas, says concentrating on sporting challenges focuses attention on the institute's research facilities.

"For us, [being involved] is a kind of showcase, which allows the world, including investors, to see what we are doing," he said.

"If we find that industrial bigwigs are suddenly interested in renewable energy and they know [thanks to the launch of Solar Impulse] that we are a centre of excellence in this field, then the project [with Piccard] will have been very important," he added.

New technologies

The main task over the next two years is to develop the new technologies needed to power the solar-powered aircraft.

A prototype will be tested in June 2006, while first night flights are planned for 2007.

In 1999, Piccard became the first man to circle the earth non-stop in the Breitling Orbiter 3 hot-air balloon.

He told swissinfo he was looking forward to taking to the skies again.

“The Breitling Orbiter was the last aeronautical adventure of the 20th century. Solar Impulse will be the first of this century.”

swissinfo

In brief

Adventurer Bertrand Piccard and the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne have launched “Solar Impulse”.

The project aims to get a solar-powered plane off the ground to fly around the world in 2007.

The aim of the project is to promote interest in renewable energy.

Key facts

Bertrand Piccard was the first man to circle the earth non-stop in a hot-air balloon, the Breitling Orbiter 3, in 1999.
He is a psychoanalyst and comes from a family of famous scientists.
His grandfather, Auguste, was immortalised by cartoonist Hergé as Professor Tournesol and he invented the principle of the pressurised airline cabin.


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