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Solar-powered plane revealed in Switzerland

April 13, 2014 at 4:57 PM EDT
Following 12 years of research and testing, designers and pilots Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg debuted a huge solar-powered plane in Switzerland this week. The plane, which boasts a wingspan wider than a 747's, is covered in more than 17,000 solar cells. Hari Sreenivasan reports.

HARI SREENIVASAN: It might never have occurred to you, but a single round-trip flight between Chicago and Frankfurt, Germany burns about 3.5 tons of carbon dioxide. That’s- about what a medium-sized car in the United States burns for an entire year.

This week, a couple of Swiss aviators announced another step to reduce the carbon footprint of flying.

As students, they may have read the Greek myth about Icarus dying after flying too close to the sun. But that hardly has deterred these two men.

After 12 years of research and testing….They finally unveiled Solar Impulse-2 in Switzerland earlier this week.

It’s a huge solar-powered plane that has a wingspan wider than a 747’s. As big as it is, the new aircraft is actually no heavier than a large car, and it carries just the pilot. It’s covered in more than 17,000 solar cells.

The designers and pilots Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg, have made several long trips on a previous version of the plane– including a flight across the Mediterranean — from Switzerland to Morocco. They say the new plane is even better.

BERTRAND PICCARD: We have the best electrical motors, the best batteries, the lightest possible structure, the most efficient consuming electricity products in the airplane cockpit.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All this, Piccard predicts, will mean the plane’s thousands of solar cells can harness enough energy from the sun to keep the plane in the sky day and night.

He better be right. Because he and his partner , are planning to fly the plane around the world sometime next year. A journey they expect will take 500 hours of flying- many of those over the world’s vast oceans.

ANDRE BORSCHBERG: When we leave the coast of china, we don’t know what the weather looks like on the other side of the ocean.

HARI SREENIVASAN: It is that uncertainty which is both the risk and the adventure..