MUSCAT: Solar Impulse 2 took off on Tuesday from Oman, launching the second leg of its epic bid to become the first solar-powered plane to fly around the world, in a test of its pilots’ endurance.
The aircraft took off from Muscat at 6.35 am (2:35 a.m. Manila time) for what is expected to be a 16-hour, 1,465 kilometer journey over the Arabian Sea to Ahmedabad in India.
Pilot Bertrand Piccard was at the controls, taking over from fellow Swiss aviator Andre Borschberg.
On Monday, Borschberg had touched down in Muscat after the first leg of the journey, 13 hours and two minutes after leaving Abu Dhabi.
“The adventure has started,” Solar Impulse Chairman Bertrand Piccard said just after Borschberg took off in the early morning from Abu Dhabi’s Al-Bateen airport on the historic journey aimed at promoting green energy.
Borschberg spoke of an “emotional” trip, telling reporters in Muscat he cruised at 6,000 meters (almost 20,000 feet) because the trip was “short.”
Piccard is set to fly higher on the trip to Ahmedabad, Borschberg said.
Both pilots wore traditional Omani turbans as they received an official welcome in the Gulf sultanate.
United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon hailed the venture and congratulated the pilots.
“We take inspiration from their example and efforts to harness the power of multilateralism to address climate change and to inspire the world to achieve sustainable development,” his spokesman said.
“With their daring and determination, we can all fly into a new sustainable future,” the spokesman added.
Research and testing
Si2’s takeoff, which had originally been scheduled for Saturday but was delayed by high winds, capped 13 years of research and testing by the two Swiss pilots.
Live video streaming on the www.solarimpulse.com website monitoring the unique aircraft’s progress showed the pilot, wearing an orange jumpsuit, breathing using an oxygen mask.
“From Mission Control Center in #Monaco the engineers are helping me to perform Oxygen Mask tests from #SolarImpulse,” he tweeted.
Borschberg earlier called his wife from on board, according to the live feed.
The wingspan of the one-seater Si2 is slightly bigger than that of a jumbo jet, but its weight is around that of a family car.
From Muscat, it will make 12 stops on an epic journey spread over five months, with a total flight time of around 25 days.
Later legs will take it to Myanmar, China, Hawaii and New York.
Landings are also earmarked for the midwestern United States and either southern Europe or North Africa, depending on the weather conditions.
The longest single leg will see a lone pilot fly non-stop for five days and nights across the Pacific Ocean between Nanjing, China and Hawaii, a distance of 8,500 kilometers (5,270 miles).