Can it fly around the world without a drop of fuel?
A Swiss solar-powered plane took off from Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates on Monday. It marked the start of the first attempt to fly around the world without a drop of fuel.
Solar Impulse founder Andr Borschberg was at the controls of the single-seater. It took off from the Al Bateen Executive Airport. Borschberg will trade off piloting with Solar Impulse co-founder Bertrand Piccard during stop-overs. The solar plane's journey will take months to complete.
The Swiss pilots say their aim is to create awareness about replacing "old polluting technologies with clean and efficient technologies."
The plane is expected to reach its first destination Muscat, Oman after about 10 hours of flight.
Some legs of the trip, such as over the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, will mean five or six straight days of flying.
The lightweight Solar Impulse 2, a larger version of a single-seat prototype that first flew five years ago, is made of carbon fiber. It has 17,248 solar cells built into the wing. They supply the plane with renewable energy. The solar cells recharge four lithium polymer batteries.
The company says the plane has a 236-foot wingspan. That is larger than that of the Boeing 747. But it weighs about as much as an SUV at around 5,070 pounds.
In June the plane made an inaugural flight. It traveled two hours and 17 minutes above western Switzerland. That was just two months after it was unveiled.
After Oman, the plane will head to India, where it will make two stops. Then it's on to China and Myanmar. Next it will head across the Pacific and stop in Hawaii. Then it will fly to Phoenix, Ariz., and New York's biggest airport, John F. Kennedy International. The path across the Atlantic will depend on the weather. It could include a stop in southern Europe or Morocco before ending in Abu Dhabi.
The round-the-world trip is expected to end in late July. Or even August.
Borschberg and Piccard say they want to push politicians, celebrities and private citizens to confront the Conference on Climate Change of the United Nations. It will define the new Kyoto protocol in December 2015 in Paris. There, all countries are supposed to present targets for a new global climate agreement. Governments are expected to adopt a plan at the meeting.
Critical thinking challenge: Why will it take so long to fly over the Atlantic Ocean?