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The Solar Powered Plane – It Lives!

Mad scientists don’t usually hang around in Switzerland, tinkering around with their crazy ideas and running after them down the asphalt.

Thankfully Bertrand Piccard, who flew the Breitling Orbiter hot air balloon around the world in 1999, isn’t mad.  In fact, this idea may just fly.

In 2003 he and the Solar Impulse Foundation announced their intention to fly a Solar Powered Plane around the world.  In 2007, they started to build it.

Now the plane has taken it’s first small, but confident, steps.

A few weeks ago the power systems were tested to ensure the 12,000 photovoltaic cells could and would power the engines.

The sun shone, the propellers turned .. it was a success!

Last week, the next hurdle was tackled: would those propellers move the plane along?

On two successive days two tests were done.  On the first day, accompanied by a safety cushion in case the landing gear collapsed, the plane taxied down the runway at just over 5mph.

On the second day the team got more adventurous.  They took away the safety equipment away, upped the speed to just over 10mph and tested the planes swivel wheels, which are designed to allow it to land in a cross wind.

Nothing went wrong, everything went perfectly.  So perfectly infact that with just one tweak of the throttle the plane airborne would have taken off.

However that test has to wait until next week … watch this space!


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is a seasoned sustainability journalist focusing on business, finance and clean technology. His writing's been carried by a number of highly respected publishers, including The Guardian, The Washington Post and Scientific American. You can follow him on twitter as @britesprite, where he's one of Mashable's top green tweeters and Fast Company's CSR thought leaders. Alternatively you can follow him to the shops... but that would be boring.


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