Energy

Solar-Powered Plane Takes More Than A YEAR To Fly Around World

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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A solar-powered plane took off for the final leg of its flight around the world Monday, and should finish circumnavigating the world this week after more than a year of delays and technical difficulties.

The plane, dubbed Solar Impulse 2, began its trip last March in Abu Dhabi of the United Arab Emirates. The plane’s flight was originally expected to last five months and include only 25 days of actual flying. However, the plane was grounded for the entire winter of 2015 after it did not perform to design specifications. The plane has flown across Asia and the Pacific to America and is now flying from Egypt back to its point of origin.

The first airplane to fly around the world without stopping or refueling took nine days to circumnavigate the planet in 1986.

Solar Impulse 2 flies at an average speed of 50 miles per hour, while a conventional Boeing 747 flies at 570 miles per hour. The solar plane’s flight from New York to Spain took 70 hours. A conventional jet could do in seven hours and 41 minutes, according to TravelMath.com.

The solar plane flies so slowly because solar panels are an inefficient source of energy compared to conventional fuel. Tech magazine Wired found solar-powered planes are simply not fast and can’t carry enough to be useful, according to the article “Solar Planes Are Cool, But They’re Not The Future Of Flight.” This is supported by the fact that the plane weighs 5,071 lbs, roughly as heavy as a car, and has a solar panel-covered wingspan of 236 feet.

The solar plane cost $222 million from the start of the project in 2003 until mid-2015, and has faced repeated financial difficulties. The solar plane is financially supported by the prince of Monaco with the goal of raising awareness for solar power and other technologies associated with the project.

“It’s a project for energy, for a better world,” Bertrand Piccard, the Swiss adventurer who pilots the plane, told journalists in Egypt before taking off. Piccard says the plane’s flight is intended to raise awareness of renewable energy sources and technologies.

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