A solar-powered aircraft landed this week in Morocco, establishing a new world record in solar air travel.
The Solar Impulse project kicked off in 2003 with a €90 million budget and the goal to design an aircraft that would be entirely solar powered. A team of experts worked on the project for 7 years; project contributors included engineers from Swiss elevator company Schindler and research aid from Solvay, a Belgian chemicals group.
The Solar Impulse set its first record in July 2010 when it completed a 26-hour flight, a world record flying time for an solar-powered plane.
This week, the plane flew from Madrid to Morocco across a narrow portion of the Gibraltar Strait. This test flight was necessary to help the project’s leaders design a more elaborate world tour that is scheduled to begin next year.
The 19-hour flight from Madrid sets another world record for the solar aircraft: it is the first intercontinental flight powered by solar energy.
“The flight was absolutely wonderful but I almost did not enjoy it because I told myself that Andre and I have the responsibility to bring this aircraft to Morocco,” Swiss pilot Bertrand Piccard said reporters upon landing at Rabat’s International airport.
Piccard, along with fellow pilot Andre Borschberg, is a co-founder of the Solar Impulse project.
The plane was greeted by the head of Morocco’s solar energy agency, Mustafa Bakkoury. The Solar Impulse landing in the North African country was lauded as a positive publicity stunt for Morocco, which hopes to draw attention to its clean energy policies. The country plans to produce 40 percent of its energy with solar by 2020 and hopes to eventually establish an energy export industry to Europe as well.
“We came here out of admiration for Morocco’s pioneering solar energy program,” pilot Piccard said.
Piccard is no stranger to exciting air travel, having already circumnavigated the globe by hot air balloon. He’s also described as a member of “a family of adventurers.” Still, he recognized the uniqueness of the Solar Impulse flight.
“It was perhaps the most beautiful flight of my life. I have dreamed since I was a child of flying without using fuel,” he told the press.