Switzerland's famed Solar Impulse solar plane has chalked up another successful flight, this one designed to see how it would manage flying across the country and landing at its busiest airports.
Powered solely by solar energy, the Solar Impulse HB-SIA prototype took to the skies Tuesday morning to start the first leg of its multicity flight. Lifting off from home base in Payerne at 8 a.m., Solar Impulse co-founder and pilot Andre Borschberg flew the plane to Geneva, reaching the city's international airport a little before 12:30 p.m.
At the airport, curious visitors were allowed to see the plane up close to snap pictures and ask questions of the Solar Impulse crew. Following the crowded public event, Borschberg flew off once again, landing back home at Payerne at 5:31 p.m.
Day two on Wednesday saw Borschberg heading out from Payerne at 8:15 a.m, landing at Zurich International Airport at 2:30 p.m., and then returning home to Payerne a few hours later.
Throughout the entire flight, people on the ground were able to follow the progress of the plane and take photos as it flew over a low altitude on a predetermined route. The Solar Impulse team had even launched a photo contest for people who took the best pictures of the plane as it passed overhead, with a VIP tour of the Solar Impulse base as the prize.
As part of this latest mission, Solar Impulse was tested on its ability to blend in with other planes at the hectic international airports, a job that it seemed to pull off.
"The Swiss solar flights represent a major step forward for our team, taking us away from our customary airspace," Borschberg said in a statement. "We have learned to work together with international airports, merging in with the heavy Swiss air traffic."
The crew expressed special thanks to the people running Geneva Airport, who had rolled out the red carpet by giving the plane permission to land on a large airdrome and removing certain obstacles from its path.
But the flight also gave Borschberg an opportunity to tour his home country from a new perspective, flying over lakes and castles and other notable landmarks.
"These flights are just amazing," he said. "Thanks to the plane's low speed, I was able to discover Switzerland from a completely new angle, fully taking in the beauty of our country."
Beyond the flight itself, the Solar Impulse team officially unveiled a new educational program designed to encourage students, teachers, and schools to learn more about the world's energy and environmental problems. The driving force behind the Solar Impulse project has always been to prove the business viability and profitability of renewable energy.
As part of the educational program, Borschberg and fellow co-founder Bertrand Piccard will invite students from around the world to participate in monthly online conferences about the environment and provide material to Swiss schools to show students how to develop their own environmental projects.
Next on the Solar Impulse's schedule will be international flights scheduled for 2011, a trans-Atlantic trek in 2012, and an around-the-world journey in 2013 piloting the second prototype of the plane, which goes into its design phase this fall.