Pilot takes off on first solar-powered intercontinental trip (Update)

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    Pilot takes off on first solar-powered intercontinental trip (Update)

    June 5, 2012
    Pilot takes off on first solar-powered intercontinental trip (Update)

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    A Swiss adventurer took off Tuesday into the night skies above Madrid and headed for Rabat on the world's first intercontinental flight in a solar-powered plane. Each of the motors on the carbon-fibre plane charges 400-kilogram (880-pound) lithium polymer batteries during the day, allowing the aircraft to carry on flying after dark.

    A Swiss adventurer took off Tuesday into the night skies above Madrid and headed for Rabat on the world's first intercontinental flight in a solar-powered plane.




    Bertrand Piccard, 54-year-old psychiatrist and balloonist, piloted the Solar Impulse plane, a giant as big as an Airbus A340 but as light as an average family car, on the daring voyage from Europe to Africa.

    As he guided the experimental plane almost silently aloft from Madrid-Barajas airport at 5:22 am (0322 GMT), a red light could be seen disappearing into the moon-lit sky.

    An onboard camera relayed pictures of the Spanish capital's quiet streets stretched out below the aircraft, which has 12,000 solar cells in the wings turning four electrical motors.

    Helped by a tailwind, Piccard gradually piloted the plane towards 3,600 metres (11,800 feet) as he headed to Seville in southern Spain
     

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