Solar Impulse 2, the solar-powered plane attempting to fly around the world for the first time, has completed its first leg, touching down in Muscat, Oman after flying from Abu Dhabi.
The voyage is expected to take five months in total with two pilots on board – Swiss businessmen Andre Borschbeg and Bertrand Piccard.
“I am confident we have a very special aeroplane, and it will have to be to get us across the big oceans. We may have to fly for five days and five nights to do that, and it will be a challenge. But we have the next two months, as we fly the legs to China, to train and prepare ourselves,” Borschberg told the BBC.
The Solar Impulse has a wingspan of 72 metres, which is wider than a 747 jumbo jet, but weighs only 2.3 tonnes, with 17,000 solar cells lining its wings combined with energy-dense lithium-ion batteries to keep it flying at night.
The plane is not fast – the leg to Oman was only about 400km – but the voyage is groundbreaking for the possibilities of increased use of solar power and storage in ground-based systems.
The price of solar electric panels fell 70% in recent years and costs are expected to halve again this decade.
Bill Condie is a science journalist based in Adelaide, Australia.
Read science facts, not fiction...
There’s never been a more important time to explain the facts, cherish evidence-based knowledge and to showcase the latest scientific, technological and engineering breakthroughs. Cosmos is published by The Royal Institution of Australia, a charity dedicated to connecting people with the world of science. Financial contributions, however big or small, help us provide access to trusted science information at a time when the world needs it most. Please support us by making a donation or purchasing a subscription today.