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Solar plane maker to try round-the-world flight

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Solar Impulse announced April 9 that it has finished building the airplane it will use to attempt the first solar-powered, globe-circling flight.

Flight testing of the single-seat Solar Impulse 2 is scheduled to begin in May, the Swiss firm said. The aircraft’s global voyage will begin in March 2015 in the Persian Gulf region and cross Asia, the Pacific Ocean, the United States, the Atlantic Ocean, Europe and Africa. The plane will land every few days to change pilots and be used in publicity events. The entire trip is expected to take 500 flying hours and cover 22,000 miles over five months.

Made of lightweight carbon fiber, the aircraft has a wingspan of 236 feet, exceeding that of a Boeing 747-8I airliner, to help it stay aloft for days at a time. It will get its energy from 17,000 solar cells built into the wing. Lithium batteries charged during daytime flying will allow Solar Impulse 2 to stay airborne at night.

An earlier version of the aircraft flew across the United States last year. The new variant has several improvements, including more room for the pilot.

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