The maiden flight of Solar Impulse 2 took place on Monday morning at Payerne aerodrome in Switzerland. The solar-powered aircraft took off at 5:36 AM CET, when the weather around the aerodrome was at its calmest, with pilot Markus Scherdel at the controls. The aircraft flew for two hours and 17 minutes, reaching an altitude of 1,670 m (5,500 ft) and a ground speed of 55.6 km/h (30 kt). According to Solar Impulse, the in-flight data indicates that the aircraft slated to make the first all-solar global circumnavigation flight performed to expectations.

Following in the wake of the Solar Impulse that completed a transcontinental flight in 2012 and multi-stage flight across the US last year, Solar Impulse 2 is an experimental single-seater aircraft built by the Solar Impulse company founded by psychiatrist and explorer Bertrand Piccard and engineer and entrepreneur André Borschberg. It will be used by Piccard and Borschberg for their attempt at the first solar-powered flight around the world in 2015, and its designers also regard it as a flying laboratory for testing new technologies.

With its 72-m (236-ft) wingspan, the Solar Impulse 2 is wider than a Boeing 747-8I, but weighs only about 2,300 kg (5,070 lb). Part of the reason for this is that it’s made out of carbon fiber three times lighter than paper employing a light single-ply technology used in competitive yachting. Its four electric motors are powered by 17,000 solar cells 135 microns thick built into the wing and protected by a fluorine copolymer film, which feed banks of high-density lithium polymer batteries weighing 633 kg (1,395 lb). In flight, the plane is charged by the Sun during the day and powered by batteries at night for “virtually unlimited autonomy.”

“This inaugural flight is an important stage – a step closer towards the round-the-world flight,” says Borschberg. “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.”

According to Solar Impulse, the airplane has to undergo several more flights before it can attain an official airworthiness certification.

The video below shows highlights of the maiden flight of Solar Impulse 2.

Source: Solar Impulse