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Solar plane promises new era of flight

Solar Impulse, a Swiss-made, solar-powered aircraft, soars above San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge in April. The one-of-a-kind aircraft is on a five-leg voyage across the United States. Solar Impulse, a Swiss-made, solar-powered aircraft, soars above San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge in April. The one-of-a-kind aircraft is on a five-leg voyage across the United States.
HIDE CAPTION
Solar Impulse
In the cockpit
On the ground
Solar cells
Slow but steady
Night flying
Celebration
Sunseeker I: First solar plane to cross the U.S.
NASA's Helios
Boeing's Solar Eagle
Paris
Pre-flight
Wide and lightweight
Co-pilots
Dreams of circumnavigation
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The Solar Impulse is a unique aircraft which uses solar energy
  • 63-meter wide wingspan is similar to dimensions of a jumbo jet
  • Swiss team plan to fly non-stop around the globe in 2014

Payerne, Switzerland (CNN) -- With the wingspan of a jumbo jet and a scooter-sized engine, the Solar Impulse is a one of a kind.

Thanks to nearly 12,000 solar cells and four electrically-powered propellers, it's the first aircraft in the world that can fly without any fuel -- day or night.

The 63-meter wide, 1,600 kilogram plane is already a record breaker, staying in the air for 26 unbroken hours in 2010.

But it's about more than just flying, says pilot Andre Borschberg.

"We want to show what can be done with these technologies," Borschberg said.

Can solar power fuel future flight?

"We can keep our quality of life but reduce our energy consumptions, reduce our dependency on oil and nuclear energy."

The idea for Solar Impulse came from Bertrand Piccard, the first man to travel non-stop around the world in a balloon.

"We almost failed (because of) lack of fuel," Piccard said of his epic journey back in 1999.

We want to show what can be done with these technologies.
Andre Borschberg

"At that moment, I made a promise that the next time I would fly around the world it would be with no fuel at all. And that's how the vision of solar impulse was born," he said.

But it wasn't until he met Borschberg seven years ago that he began to fulfill that promise.

With a budget of $134 million at their disposal, the Solar Impulse team have the sponsors and the support to realize their goal of flying around the world without fuel in 2014 -- a first in aviation history.

"Everything we do is new. Each time it's a pioneering step," Piccard said.

"When the Wright Brothers did that first flight in 1903, it took 25 years for Charles Lindbergh to cross the Atlantic. He did it alone. (It then took) another 25 years to have 100 passengers flying over the Atlantic."

With fair winds behind them, Piccard and Borschberg are confident that the future of solar flying is bright and that Solar Impulse will soar into the record books, securing their place in aviation history as 21st century pioneers of flight.

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