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An experimental aircraft, Solar Impulse, is set to take off from a Swiss airbase in the first attempt to fly around the clock fuelled by the energy of the sun.
The venture's founder, Bertrand Piccard, said Solar Impulse ultimately aimed for the aviator's dream of ''perpetual flight'' and to prove a point by flying through the night. Mr Piccard was the first balloonist to circle the globe.
''The great adventure of the 21st century is no longer to go to the moon, because that has already been done, it's about moving society bit by bit away from its dependence on fossil fuels,'' he said.
The single seater, clad with solar panels, weighs little more than a car but has the wingspan of an Airbus A340 airliner. Packed with the latest technology, the prototype's four sun-fuelled 10-horsepower electric motors have gently hauled it to high altitude for hours on end. A 25-hour window of fine summer weather is needed as the ultra-lightweight plane takes off today.
Former space shuttle astronaut Claude Nicollier said the most critical period would come overnight as daytime solar energy stored in batteries ran low and the team looked to the rising sun for a boost.
The plane will fly to altitudes of up to 8500 metres as the venture's joint founder, Andre Borschberg, guides it over Switzerland and eastern France at speeds of about 70km/h.
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