In Brief

Solar plane takes off on round-the-world journey

Swiss adventurers will fly solar aircraft for 120 hours with stops across the globe to promote clean energy

A Swiss Solar plane has taken off from Abu Dhabi in a record-breaking attempt to fly around the world without any fuel.

Aviation pioneers Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg took off at 7:12am (4:12am GMT) from the UAE's Al-Bateen airport in the Solar Impulse-2, a revolutionary aircraft powered only by the sun.

The plane is heading for Muscat, the capital of Oman, on the first leg of a journey that is expected to take around five months, including 120 hours in the air. Borschberg was at the controls for the first leg, but he will split the flying duties of the single-seater aircraft with his fellow Swiss pilot.

The team's progress can be followed live online with information on the current location, altitude, speed and direction of the plane. Users can also chat directly with the mission control centre about its progress as well as read the pilots' logbooks.

Borschberg and Piccard aim to use their stops around the world to spread a campaigning message about the importance of renewable energy and clean technologies.

The Solar Impulse 2 is made of carbon fibre, and comes as the evolution of a prototype that set several aviation records, including becoming the first fully solar-powered overnight flight lasting 26 hours in 2010. The new plane has a wingspan wider than a Boeing 777, but weighs no more than a family car, CNN reports. This wingspan to weight ratio is critical so that the plane can generate enough power to fly the long distances required.

The plane's wings carry over 17,000 solar cells that send power to four electric motor. It is also fitted with custom-built lithium batteries that store energy so that the plane can continue to fly throughout the night.

"What we have now is the first aeroplane in the world which has unlimited endurance," Borschberg told CNN. "It can fly a day and a night, it can fly a week, it can fly a month – theoretically it can fly a year," he said. "It's the most energy efficient airplane ever built."

From Muscat, the Solar Impulse 2 will make 12 more stops, crossing the Arabian Sea to India then continuing to Myanmar, China, Hawaii and New York.

It will land several times in the US as well as either southern Europe or North Africa, depending on weather conditions, Al-Jazeera reports.

The longest single leg on its journey will be the crossing from China to Hawaii – a distance of 8,500km (5,281 miles).

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