Solar plane takes off on test flight

Solar plane takes off on test flight

The solar powered aircraft flies for the first time with test pilot Markus Scherdel on board at the military airport in Payerne, Switzerland, on Wednesday. AP

Tensions were running high in the team as an AFP reporter watched the high tech prototype lift into blue skies at a speed of just 45 kmph after a one kilometre run down the runway at Payerne air base.

Propelled by four 10 horsepower electric motors, the gangling single-seater aircraft and test pilot Markus Scherdel slowly gained altitude for a scheduled flight of around two hours at an altitude of around 1,000 metres (3,280 feet).

The prototype, which is slightly smaller than the plane that will undertake the round-the-world flight, has a wingspan comparable to that of an Airbus A340 airliner but weighs as little as a family-sized car at only 1,600 kg (3,527 pounds).Andre Borschberg, co-founder of the project, along with pioneering round-the-world balloonist Bertrand Piccard, said the first flight was primarily aimed at testing the complex aircraft’s behaviour in the air.

“It’s a very important moment after seven years of work,” he told journalists shortly before take off, adding that the team was “prepared, but facing the unknown.”

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