Solar Impulse readies to go abroad

Solar-powered airplane prepares for European flightSolar Impulse, a photovoltaic-powered airplane with a wingspan greater than a 747 but as light as a car, is preparing for its first international flight. It will travel from its home in Switzerland to Brussels, Belgium.

The solar-powered plane has already flown for a continuous 26 hours—and did that at night, thanks to batteries charged by the photovoltaics. But this will mark the first time it’s been in international airspace.

Solar Impulse could start the journey as early as May 2.

“The flight from Switzerland to Brussels will take approximately 12m hours but this won’t be a straight flight,” said Solar Impulse spokesperson Alexandra Gindroz. The plane flies at about 3,600 meters (11,800 feet), where its photovoltaic panels and engines can operate efficiently.

The plane will make its international debut at Brussels, the European Union capital, from May 23 to May 29. It will then fly on to Paris-Le Bourget, as a special guest of the 49th International Paris Air Show from June 20 to June 26, according to a press release.

The flights represent significant challenges for the Solar Impulse team, since the aircraft is considered experimental, and it has to receive approval for its flight plans from all the countries it’s going to fly over.

“The plane will fly alone, but to ensure its safety and success, a mission as challenging as this requires contributions from a whole team of specialists, including meteorological experts from the Royal Belgian Meteorological Institute, air traffic controllers, engineers and IT specialists,” Gindroz said. “They will assist the pilot during the flight from the Mission Control Center based in Payern in our hangar.”

The plane had been sitting in the hangar over the winter, following its successful overnight flight. The team was satisfied with the plane’s performance in the overnight test, according to Gindroz.

“Actually it surpassed expectation, so they did not do any significant modifications during the winter, only basic maintenance,” she said.

The plane may make a Lindbergh flight to debut in the U.S., Gindroz said.

“This is a plan. We would love to cross the Atlantic. We don’t know when it can happen, whether its next year or in 2013,” she said.