Solar-powered airplane makes first international flight

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The solar-powered aircraft Solar Impulse has completed a 13-hour flight from its home base in Payerne, Switzerland touching down at Brussels International Airport late on Saturday night.

The voyage was the first international flight by a fully solar-powered aircraft and was piloted by co-founder and chief engineer of the Solar Impulse project, Andre Borschberg. The project aims to circumnavigate the globe only using the sun’s energy in 2013.

Speaking in an interview after the flight, Bertrand Piccard, the group’s other co-founder said:

“Our goal is to create a revolution in the minds of people…to promote solar energies — not necessarily a revolution in aviation,”

The aircraft collects energy from the sun using 12,000 extremely thin solar cells affixed to the wings and tail section. An on-board battery can store enough electricity to fly all night, which allows the Solar Impulse to soar indefinitely.

This advantage allowed the aircraft to maintain a holding pattern over the Brussels airport as other flights landed and conditions were right for the Solar Impulse to land. Because the aircraft weighs only about 3,500 pounds and has a wingspan of 200 feet, it is extremely sensitive to wind and needs calm conditions to land safely.