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.
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

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. More

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

Dropout rate at an all-time high in South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during 3-year civil war More

Tennessee Songbirds Fly Coop Long Before Tornadoes Arrive

Researchers say birds apparently alerted to danger by sounds at frequencies below range of human hearing More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacksi
X
December 19, 2014 12:45 AM
The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid