Little more than a century after the Wright brothers launched a gas-powered airplane from a sandhill outside Kitty Hawk, a team of Swiss explorers took off Sunday for their own run at aviation history, in a plane fueled only by sunlight. Strapped into the cramped, single-seat cockpit of a plane called the Solar Impulse 2, former fighter pilot André Borschberg lifted off just after 11 p.m. EDT Sunday from a military airport near the Strait of Hormuz and began the first leg in a quest to fly a solar-powered craft around the world. Borschberg will head first to Muscat, Oman, gradually climbing toward 28,000 feet (8,500 meters) as a vast array of solar panels stretched across the wing tops and fuselage drink in sunlight and power the craft’s four electric engines. After Oman the plane will continue east, visiting cities in India and China before attempting to reach Hawaii on a perilous, multi-day crossing of the Pacific. The journey is expected to last five months and cover some 21,000 miles (33,800 kilometers), with frequent stops along the way where Borschberg will trade off flying duties with his partner-in-adventure, Bertrand Piccard. If their circumnavigation is successful, the men will be the first to break the fuel barrier—crossing immense distances, flying day and night, without consuming a drop of gasoline. “This is the future,” said Piccard, a psychiatrist and adventurer who in 1999 was first to fly around the world in a gas balloon. “It’s another way to think, to fly, to promote sustainability. We’ve come a long way since the Wright brothers.” via Solar Plane Takes Off on Round-the-World Quest.
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