First Solar Airplane Grabbing Records

Piccard's Solar Impulse flies from Europe to Africa and back

The world's first solar powered airplane set another record this summer. On July 24, Bertrand Piccard landed the Solar Impulse in Payerne, Switzerland, having traveled some 3,728 miles (6,000 km) during a roundtrip flight between Europe and Africa. (See Expedition News, April 2010).

The journey between Switzerland and Morocco, which began on May 24, consisted of eight flights—from Payerne to Ouarzazate and back—with Piccard and André Borschberg taking turns in the single-seater cockpit. The most challenging leg was from Rabat to Ouarzazate, just beyond the Atlas Mountains, a region rife with turbulence and strong winds. On the return from Rabat to Madrid, Piccard found himself actually flying “backwards,” having encountered headwinds greater than his airspeed.

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Piccard and Borschberg’s Crossing Frontiers Expedition reaffirmed the reliability of the technologies used to construct the plane and the efficiency of its energy consumption, according to The Explorers Club website (; the team carried a Club flag on the flight.

Originally built only to prove the feasibility of flying day and night solely on solar power, the HB-SIA prototype, which has the wingspan of an Airbus A340 and is the weight of an average car, is now in the process of collecting a number of distance world records for solar aircraft, being verified by the International Air Sports Federation (FAI) in straight distance, free distance, and distance along a course. Its ultimate challenge is to fly around the world.

(See the aircraft land in Payerne to the sound of alpenhorns here: