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Solar Impulse completes first leg of planned transcontinental flight


Solar Impulse, the solar-powered plane in development since 2003, made one of its longest flights yet last week, the first of two planned legs that will take it from Payerne, Switzerland to Rabat, Morocco. The 17-hour flight from Payerne to Madrid crossed the Pyrenees mountains at 27,000 and cruised at an average speed of 55 mph. The adventurer Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg are taking turns piloting the plane. The crew delayed the second leg of the trip, from Madrid to Rabat, from Monday until Thursday due to stronger than predicted headwinds aloft. Solar Impulse made its first flight in 2009, and its backers had hoped to fly it around the world by this year. That goal for the single-seat airplane has moved back to 2014. The plane relies on nearly 12,000 solar cells spread across the top of its wings and horizontal stabilizer to power four electric motors, each with a two-blade propeller. The plane has a 208-foot wingspan, but seats only one person.