An effort to fly a solar-powered plane 20,000 miles around the world began Monday when the Solar Impulse 2 took off from Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.
The relatively short jaunt — just 250 miles (400km), in a 12-hour journey east to Muscat, Oman — is the first leg of a planned 12-stop global circumnavigation, the first by a solar aircraft. The longest segments are five-day trips over the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Those will be the most serious test of the plane’s design, which gathers energy from solar cells then stores it in batteries for overnight flying in the dark.
The project reported no problems with Solar Impulse 2 for most of the flight — but its accompanying chase plane had technical difficulties, and the Web site went offline, too.
Feats of aviation derring-do are as old as the aviation industry, including the Montgolfier brothers’ hot-air balloons in the 18th century and Chuck Yeager’s breaking of the sound barrier in 1947. Such efforts, while risky and sometimes fatal, often serve to advance the state of the art.