A solar plane with wings as wide as a 747 and the power of a small motorboat took to the skies for the first time, cruising a mile high at bicycle-like speeds for nearly 1 1/2 hours in a step toward becoming the first sun-powered aircraft to circle the world
In its maiden test flight, "Solar Impulse" - designed by Swiss adventurer Bertrand Piccard's team - completed a series of turns, slip maneuvers and bank angles reaching 5 degrees. Most importantly, it proved able to take off and land. The team plans to fly it around the world in 2012.
"There has never been an airplane of that kind that could fly - never an airplane so big, so light, using so little energy," said Piccard, who in 1999 copiloted the first nonstop round-the-globe balloon flight. "So there were huge question marks for us."
At a military airport in the Swiss countryside, the plane lifted off after at a speed no faster than 45 kph (28 mph) after only a short acceleration on the runway. It slowly gained altitude above the green and beige fields, and disappeared eventually into the horizon as villagers watched from the nearest hills.
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