News / Science & Technology

Solar Plane Flies Over Moroccan Desert in Toughest Challenge Yet

This screen grab from the Solar Impulse live stream shows Swiss pilot and businessman, Andre Borschberg, as he flies his solar plane over the Moroccan desert, June 13, 2012.This screen grab from the Solar Impulse live stream shows Swiss pilot and businessman, Andre Borschberg, as he flies his solar plane over the Moroccan desert, June 13, 2012.
x
This screen grab from the Solar Impulse live stream shows Swiss pilot and businessman, Andre Borschberg, as he flies his solar plane over the Moroccan desert, June 13, 2012.
This screen grab from the Solar Impulse live stream shows Swiss pilot and businessman, Andre Borschberg, as he flies his solar plane over the Moroccan desert, June 13, 2012.
TEXT SIZE - +
The world's first solar-powered plane to make an intercontinental flight is attempting an even greater challenge as it flies through the mountainous and desert climate of Morocco.

The experimental Solar Impulse plane took off from the Moroccan capital, Rabat, at 8 a.m. local time (0700 UTC) Wednesday, with Swiss pilot and businessman Andre Borschberg at the controls. The plane was heading south toward the city of Ouarzazate as part of Morocco's plan to launch the world's biggest solar power plant in the desert region in 2014.

The Switzerland-based Solar Impulse team has been working with the Moroccan government to promote the use of renewable energy technology. Borschberg's team partner and fellow Swiss pilot Bertrand Piccard flew Solar Impulse from the Spanish capital Madrid to Rabat last Wednesday, completing the first intercontinental journey by a manned aircraft operating without liquid fuel.

The single-pilot plane has a 63-meter wingspan covered by 12,000 solar cells, but only weighs about as much as an average family car. The flight over the Moroccan desert is the most difficult the team has attempted because it subjects the plane to hot and turbulent conditions for the first time.

Speaking to VOA as he flew over Morocco, Borschberg said his team took a variety of steps to mitigate the risks of the flight.


The steps include preparing multiple flight paths to avoid windy conditions, soaring to a high altitude of 9,000 meters and planning a descent only after sunset. Organizers scheduled a landing time of around 12:30am Thursday (2330 UTC).

"If the situation gets worse, we have some escape routes which would bring us back to Rabat. So all these measures should help us to get away from this difficult environment," said Borshberg.  "I think it is very much a question of preparation, anticipation and being able to give up if the situation is different from what we would have predicted. So that is the reason why we accept the risk, because the mitigation measures are extremely solid."

The Swiss pilot said the desert flight also is a good opportunity for the Solar Impulse team to train for a round-the world flight attempt in 2014.

In the past week, Borschberg and Piccard met with Moroccan officials, businesses and students in Rabat to explain how solar technology can be used on the ground to boost the Moroccan economy.

"The Moroccans saw that they have a big asset with the sun," Borshberg said. "They do not have fossil fuels in their country, so they know that using solar energy is a good way to reduce their dependence on fossil energy and sending money out of the country. I think they are very much willing to invest in this technology."

Live view from the Solar Impulse

You can follow the progress of Solar Impuse as it crosses the Moroccan Desert in more depth at live.solarimpulse.com.

Michael Lipin

Michael covers international news for VOA on the web, radio and TV, specializing in the Middle East and East Asia Pacific. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Lipin

You May Like

Multimedia Relatives of South Korean Ferry Victims Fire at Authorities

46 people are confirmed dead, but some 250 remain trapped inside sunken ferry More

War Legacy Haunts Vietnam, US Relations

$84 million project aims to clean up soil contaminated by Agent Orange More

Wikipedia Proves Useful for Tracking Flu

Technique gave better results than Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Google’s Flu Trends More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid