Technology Science - Solar plane completes 1st international flight

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Solar Impulse reached Brussels airport after a 12-hour flight from Switzerland.Solar Impulse reached Brussels airport after a 12-hour flight from Switzerland. (Yves Logghe/Associated Press)

A solar-powered plane landed in Brussels on Friday evening after a 12-hour flight from Switzerland, the futuristic aircraft's first international sortie.

The Solar Impulse single-seater prototype took off from Payerne airfield in Switzerland at 8:40 a.m. (2:40 a.m. ET) after a three-hour delay because of strong winds.

The four-engine plane with the wingspan of a Boeing 777 made its 2009 maiden flight in Switzerland and further tests have all taken place there. Last year, it completed a 26-hour non-stop flight that proved the plane can stay aloft at night from the solar energy its 12,000 solar cells soaked up during the day.

The Solar Impulse team, led by pilot Andre Borschberg and adventurer Bertrand Piccard, said Friday's 600-kilometre flight across France, Luxembourg and Belgium posed a new challenge because it required navigation across international air traffic networks.

It is scheduled to fly to France in June where it will be exhibited at the Paris air show. The plane had to go into a holding pattern when it reached Brussels National Airport, waiting for a break in traffic at the busy airport.

"I feel relieved," Piccard said. "For the last month, my biggest nightmare was ... that the plane would not arrive due to technical problems or due to weather problems."

"We always hoped it would become an ambassador for renewable energy," he said. "In the 20th century, every step of aviation was a historic one (and now) Solar Impulse is also making history."

Belgian Crown Prince Phillipe followed the solar plane in a helicopter, which filmed the approach and landing, and broadcast it live on the team's website.

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