Pioneering Swiss solar-powered aircraft Solar Impulse, which holds a 26-hour record for flight duration, took off from Switzerland on Friday on its first international flight to Belgium.


 

"/> Pioneering Swiss solar-powered aircraft Solar Impulse, which holds a 26-hour record for flight duration, took off from Switzerland on Friday on its first international flight to Belgium.


 

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Solar plane heads abroad for first time

 

Pioneering Swiss solar-powered aircraft Solar Impulse, which holds a 26-hour record for flight duration, took off from Switzerland on Friday on its first international flight to Belgium.


 


The experimental emissions-free aircraft is expected to take about 12 hours to complete the journey to Brussels Airport, the team said.

The dragon fly-like single seater, piloted by co-founder Andre Borschberg, lifted off gently in clear blue skies from Payerne airbase, in western Switzerland, at 8:40 am (0640 GMT) after being delayed by early morning mist, an AFP photographer said.

Solar Impulse HB-SIA, which has the wingspan of a large airliner but weighs no more than a saloon car, made history in July 2010 as the first manned plane to fly around the clock and through the night on the sun’s energy.

It holds a record for the longest flight by a manned solar-powered aeroplane after staying aloft for 26 hours, 10 minutes and 19 seconds above Switzerland, also setting a record for altitude by flying at 9,235 metres (30,298 feet).

The high-tech plane has since flown several times, notably between the Geneva and Zurich airports, but the hop to Brussels through crowded airspace is regarded as a new challenge.

“Flying an aircraft like Solar Impulse through European airspace to land at an international airport is an incredible challenge for all of us, and success depends on the support we receive from all the authorities concerned,” said Borschberg, who also piloted July’s flight.

Images and some control details were being streamed live on the Internet, but pictures were briefly interrupted after it took off and headed north because of a surge in connections, according to a note on the Solar Impulse website.

The aircraft HB-SIA relies on 12,000 solar cells on its 64-metre wings to charge the batteries that provide the energy for its four 10-horsepower electric propellor engines.

The showcase for green technology will go on display at Brussels airport until May 29 before flying on to the international air show at Le Bourget in Paris from June 20 to 26.

“This time, we have a real airplane — flying — proof that new technologies can reduce our dependence on fossil energy,” said Bertrand Piccard, joint founder and president of the Solar Impulse project.  

The Solar Impulse team is planning to fly even further, including possible transamerican, transatlantic and round-the-world flights — in stages — in 2013 and 2014 using a slightly larger aircraft.

Piccard, himself the first man along with Briton Brian Jones to fly nonstop around the world in a balloon, comes from a dynasty of pioneers.  

His grandfather Auguste Piccard twice beat the record for reaching the highest altitude in a balloon, in 1931-32.

His late father Jacques Piccard was a deep sea explorer, who holds the record for travelling to the deepest point underwater, 10,916 metres (35,813 feet) below sea level in the Marianas Trench in the Pacific.


We are not amused

The Swedish royal house must be grateful to their Danish cousins for providing a royal wedding to divert attention away from the embarrassing antics of a distant member of Sweden's Bernadotte dynasty.

But while most papers briefly set aside inter-Nordic rivalry to toast Prince Fredrik and his Aussie bride, Expressen leapt on the story of a certain black sheep who is claiming to be “Count Gerard Bernadotte af Wisborg, prince of Sweden”. This has not gone down well with the royals.

“The royal family consists of six people: the king, the queen, their children and Princess Lilian,” the formidable and distinctly unamused royal press chief, Elisabeth Tarras-Wahlberg, told Expressen.

The putative prince, it turns out, is not even the fruit of the royal loins. Rather, he was adopted as an adult by Jan Bernadotte, King Carl Gustav’s second cousin. Gerard was in his early thirties at the time of the adoption, and is only thirteen years younger than his legally recognized father.

And it gets worse. It appears that the royals’ would-be relative is not an entirely good egg. German-born Gerard was sent to prison in his homeland for four and a half years in the mid-nineties, after being convicted of defrauding banks.

Jan Bernadotte, himself something of an old rogue, at least had the decency to show some remorse for his adopted son’s mischief.

“I think the royal family’s a bit cross with me,” he told Expressen. “He certainly shouldn’t go around calling himself a Swedish prince. I’m sorry I ever adopted him.”

While his princely status might be disputed, our Gerard still manages to live in princely style. Expressen was granted an audience with the royal pretender – who earns his crust as a music manager and businessman – in a “40,000 crown suite at the luxury Ritz Carlton hotel in Istanbul.”

“You don’t need to call me by my title,” he graciously informed the interviewer, before offering his opinion of his adopted cousins.

“Silvia’s my favourite,” he said, “She’s so radiant and charismatic.” Indeed.

Apparently not discouraged by the palace’s failure to welcome him into the bosom of the family, Gerard professed a continued desire to meet the more senior members of the Bernadotte clan.

“We can’t afford a 40,000 crown suite,” came the curt rejection from Elisabeth Tarras-Wahlberg at the palace. Gerard’s royal connections may open hotel doors, but Drottningholm’s gates remain firmly closed.