Solar Impulse

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A solar-powered plane that developers hope to eventually pilot around the world has taken off from San Francisco Bay on the first leg of an attempt to fly across the United States with no fuel but the sun's energy.

The spindly looking plane, dubbed the Solar Impulse, departed shortly after 6 a.m. local time from Moffett Field, a joint civil-military airport near the south end of San Francisco, heading first to Phoenix on a slow-speed flight expected to take 19 hours.

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The Solar Impulse plane, piloted by Bertrand Piccard of Switzerland, takes off from

Moffett Airfield in Mountain View, California as it attempts to fly across the United States

We're off! The radical plane leaves the ground on a multi-city trip across the United States

It will stop for seven to 10 days at major airports in each city

The Solar Impulse is heading first to Phoenix on a slow-speed flight expected to take 19 hours


The aircraft runs on about the same power as a motor scooter, propelled by energy collected from 12,000 solar cells built into the wings that simultaneously recharge batteries with a storage capacity equivalent to a Tesla electric car.

This means the Solar Impulse can fly after dark on solar energy generated during daylight hours, and will become the first solar-powered aircraft capable of operating day and night without fuel to attempt a U.S. coast-to-coast flight.

After additional stops in Dallas, St. Louis and Washington, D.C., with pauses at each destination to wait for favorable weather, the flight team hopes to conclude the plane's cross-country voyage in about two months at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.


Swiss pilots and co-founders of the project, Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg, will take turns flying the plane, built with a single-seat cockpit, with Piccard at the controls for the first flight to Arizona. He is scheduled to land in Phoenix at 1 a.m. local time on Saturday.

The project began in 2003 with a 10-year budget of 90 million euros ($112 million) and has involved engineers from Swiss escalator maker Schindler and research aid from Belgian chemicals group Solvay - backers who want to test new materials and technologies while also gaining brand recognition.

Project organizers say the journey is also intended to boost worldwide support for the adoption of clean-energy technologies.

With the wingspan of a jumbo jet and weighing the same as a small car, the Solar Impulse is a test model for a more advanced aircraft the team plans to build to circumnavigate the globe in 2015.

The plane made its first intercontinental flight, from Spain to Morocco, last June.

The Solar Impulse pilot Bertrand Piccard, left, enters the cockpit before taking off

Pilots Bertrand Piccard, right, and Andre Borschberg, left shake hands before the Solar Impulse plane takes off

Pilot Bertrand Piccard gives a thumbs up before taking off in the Solar Impulse

solar electric airplane at Moffett Field

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