Duebendorf, Switzerland -- Solar Impulse HB-SIA, an airplane powered exclusively by photovoltaic cells and able to fly automatically, day and night without using any fossil fuels, has taken off for the first time.
The solar-powered airplane, which features polyurethane foam in its cockpit and motor gondalas, took off from Duebendorf Airport in Switzerland at 13:11 on 3 Dec 2009, a Solar Impulse company statement said.
"As the aircraft gently took up speed, the huge wing of the Solar Impulse gradually rose into the air under intense admiration of the project promoters, Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg," said a Solar Impulse release.
Pilot Markus Scherdel flew the craft some 350 metres, at an altitude of one metre, "the prototype graciously landed on the centre of the runway, triggering a frenzied applause from the team," the statement continued.
While describing the attempt as a "flea hop" Borschberg nevertheless said the event "successfully completes the first phase of Solar Impulse, confirming our technical choices." And its solar panels have yet to be connected.
One major materials contributor to the project has been chemicals group Solvay, which supplied the blowing agent for the polyurethane foam, as well as developing solutions based on ultra-light and ultra-performing polymers to replace heavier metals.
"For over ten years now, I have dreamt of a solar aircraft capable of flying day and night without fuel - and promoting renewable energy," said Solar Impulse president Piccard. "Today, our plane took off and was airborne for the very first time. This is an unbelievable and unforgettable moment," he added.
Borschberg, co-founder and ceo of Solar impulse said the company is now ready to start with the next stage of the project - actual flight tests. (RD)