Solar Impulse 2 makes maiden flight

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A revolutionary solar-powered plane has successfully made its maiden flight. Solar Impulse 2 took off from Payerne aerodrome in Switzerland at 5.36AM CET, flying for two hours and 17 minutes at an altitude of 5,500ft and a ground speed of 55.6km/h.

The plane, which is set to circumnavigate the globe next year, is an experimental single-seater aircraft made of carbon fibre, with a 72m wingspan (larger than that of the Boeing 747-8I) and a weight of just 2,300kg. The 17,000 solar cells built into the wing supply four electric motors (17.5CV each) with renewable energy. During the day, the solar cells recharge the lithium batteries, which allow the aircraft to fly at night and therefore have virtually unlimited autonomy. The aircraft's designers, Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg, regard the plane as a flying laboratory for testing new technologies. They now plan to carry out further test flights ahead of the round-the-world trip in 2015. "This inaugural flight is an important stage – a step closer towards the round-the-world flight," Borschberg said. "It is also a huge emotional step for the entire team and all our partners who have worked on the aircraft. "[Solar Impulse 2] incorporates a vast amount of new technology to render it more efficient, reliable and in particular better adapted to long haul flights. It is the first aircraft which will have almost unlimited endurance."