Solar Impulse 2, a solar-powered airplane, takes flight as it begins its historic round-the-world journey from Al Bateen Airport in Abu Dhabi, UAE on March 09, 2015.
Credit: Jean Revillard

An airplane did something pretty amazing on Monday. It took off from Abu Dhabi, flew 250 miles in the span of about 13 hours, and landed at Muscat International Airport in Oman. Seems like the slowest regional flight ever until you learn that its only fuel was the sun.

Meet the Solar Impulse 2 (Si2) — a long-winged, light-weight marvel of green technology and aeronautical engineering. Today's leisurly trip from Dubai to Muscat was the first leg of an around-the-world journey that will last 25 days of flight time, multiple stops for maintenance and planning, and five months in total from start to finish.

Si2 will make several stops along the way. After Muscat, Oman, it visits Ahmedabad and Varanasi, India; Mandalay, Myanmar; Chongqing and Nanjing, China; Hawaii, Phoenix, Arizona, and New York City in the United States; and an undetermined location in southern Europe or North Africa before returning to Abu Dhabi.

Two pilots will fly Si2: André Borschberg (the CEO and co-founder of Solar Impulse and a one-time Swiss fighter pilot) and Bertrand Piccard (a psychiatrist with a specialty in hypnosis, an adventurer who was part of the first team to circumnavigate the Earth in a balloon, and the Iniator and Chairman of the company). 

There's only enough room for one pilot in the cockpit, so Borschberg and Piccard will take turns.

It sounds like flying Si2 will be a tough gig. Crossing the Pacific and Atlantic oceans will take several days of non-stop solo flying, so Borschberg and Piccard have been practicing hypnosis and training themselves to sleep in 20-minute spurts once every few hours. The cockpit seat reclines, so there's that at least, and when nature calls, the pilots can remove the seat cushion and presto — toilet.

Judging from the smiles on their faces before today's take-off, it's clear the whole no-sleep, tin-can-in-the-sky, toilet-under-the-seat thing isn't getting the pilots down.


The specs on the Si2 are wild. Here's the plane by the numbers:

236 — Si2's wingspan in feet (compared to 225 feet on a 747)

5,000 — its weight in pounds (a 747 is over 400,000 pounds)

28 — average miles per hour speed

17,000 — the number of solar panels sucking up the sun's beautiful, plentiful rays

21,700 — miles it will travel around the Earth

0 — CO2 emissions

There are lots of ways for you to follow the plane's journey over the next few months. The Si2 website and social media accounts have a more videos, livestreams, and logs than you could ever get through.

And the team is crushing Twitter. 

Next stop: India. Should take around 20 hours.

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