Longest flight planned for manned solar plane

24 May 2012

Solar Impulse, the innovative solar-powered airplane, is to attempt its longest flight, from Switzerland to Africa. The aircraft uses technical expertise, high-tech polymer materials and energy-saving lightweight materials from Bayer MaterialScience, an Official Partner to the visionary Swiss bid to fly night and day around the world without fuel.

The testing 48-hour journey of over 2500 km, which will cross the Pyrenees and the Mediterranean and end in Morocco, follows successful test flights including Solar Impulse’s first international flight, from Switzerland to France and Belgium, in 2011.

Project originators Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg will take turns to fly the aircraft, with a scheduled intermediate stopover near Madrid, Spain to change pilots.

The flight to Morocco and the stopover in Spain will allow mission controllers to gather additional experience in cooperating with international airports, integrating the prototype into regular air traffic patterns, and managing the logistics of maintenance.

The trip will coincide with the start of work in Morocco’s Ouarzazate region to construct the largest solar power plant ever built. The Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy (MASEN) will welcome Piccard and Borschberg after the landing. MASEN is leading the implementation of the integrated Moroccan Solar Plan, which aims at developing a minimum power capacity of 2,000 MW by 2020.

Borschberg, co-founder and CEO of Solar Impulse, is excited about landing in Morocco as a first non-European destination: "This corresponds fully with the goals we had set ourselves, in terms of distance and flight duration. Flying as far as this, powered only by solar energy, will be excellent training for the round-the-world trip planned for 2014."

Leverkusen-based company Bayer MaterialScience became an Official Partner of the Swiss Solar Impulse project in 2010. Since then, more than two dozen researchers have been working at the company’s laboratories in Leverkusen, Dormagen and Krefeld-Uerdingen on ideas for lightweight construction and energy efficiency. Material solutions are, for example, part of the plane’s pilot cabin, the wings and the motor gondolas. Patrick Thomas, CEO of Bayer MaterialScience, believes the project reflects Bayer’s intentions to use Science for a Better Life: "Solar Impulse is a real challenge – in particular in regard to lightweight materials. Through the use of innovative materials, we can help find solutions for energy efficiency and ‘clean’ energy."

By 2020, Morocco plans to build five solar complexes, which will generate a total of 2,000 MW and avoid the emission over time of 3.7M tons of CO2. The solar-thermal power plant in the Ouarzazate region is part of the solar complex, housing a range of solar installations which, by 2015, will generate a total of 500MW.

"We are full of admiration for the vision of this pioneering project, which clearly demonstrates that the clean technologies we are promoting with Solar Impulse also have a role to play in everyday life", said Piccard, originator and President of Solar Impulse.

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