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Solar Impulse 2 completes round-the-world trip

The plane landed a few minutes past 4:00 UAE time, just over two days after it took off from Cairo late on July 23rd, completing the final leg of its long journey

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Solar impulse 2 pilots Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg after landing at the Al Bateen Executive Airport in Abu Dhabi
Solar impulse 2 pilots Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg after landing at the Al Bateen Executive Airport in Abu Dhabi

The first round-the-world solar powered flight has been completed, after the Solar Impulse 2 aircraft touched down in Abu Dhabi, where its journey began more than a year ago.

The plane landed a few minutes past 4:00 UAE time, just over two days after it took off from Cairo late on July 23rd, completing the final leg of its long journey.

The craft spent a total of 505 hours — more than 23 days — in the air, stopping at airports across Europe, North America, and Asia to avoid inclement weather, and to give its two pilots well-deserved breaks.

Bertrand Piccard piloted the plane for a final time, steering it safely from the Egyptian capital Cairo for two days and 37 minutes to the UAE. He has been taking turns at the controls with Swiss compatriot Andre Borschberg, with the mission aiming to promote renewable energy.

It brings to an end a voyage that began in Abu Dhabi on 9 March last year. That plane flew across the Pacific Ocean, with Piccard's fellow pilot André Borschberg manning the controls for 4 days, 21 hours and 51 minutes as he flew the craft from Nagoya, Japan, to Honolulu in Hawaii.

"The future is clean. The future is you. The future is now. Let's take it further,'' Mr Piccard said, arriving into Abu Dhabi to cheers and applause.

It was the endurance capabilities of the two pilots that dictated the journey's route and regular stops, rather than Solar Impulse 2 itself, which could theoretically fly forever on the power provided by 17,000 photovoltaic cells housed on its wings.

The solar plane is wider than a Boeing 747, with a wingspan of 72 meters (236 feet), but offers its pilots none of the same comforts as that craft, cooping them up in a cramped cockpit for hours on end.

It also doesn't share the jet engines of airliners, instead traveling through the skies at a leisurely 30mph, making even the short hops between European countries fairly gruelling experiences for its pilots.

The journey from Cairo to Abu Dhabi was also made more difficult by severe turbulence, forcing Piccard to keep a grip on the controls as he ascended to 29,000 feet during the day, and back down to 5,000 feet at night, when the plane's solar cells weren't being charged.

It was just one of 19 official aviation records set during the global adventure.

As co-founders of Solar Impulse, Piccard and Borschberg say their feat was designed to prove "that clean technologies can achieve the impossible," saying that their 40,000 kilometer journey was "not just a first in the history of aviation, but also a first in the history of energy."

From the cockpit of the Solar Impulse 2, Piccard called on everyone to see the round-the-world journey as a call to action. "All the clean technologies we use, they can be used everywhere. So we have flown 40,000km, but now it is up to other people to take it further. It is up to every person in a house to take it further, every head of state, every mayor in a city, every entrepreneur or CEO of a company."

The pair had hoped to complete the challenge last year but progress was not quite swift enough to get the best of the weather in the Northern Hemisphere's summer.

And when battery damage was sustained on that epic five-day, five-night passage over the western Pacific in June/July 2015, and the decision was taken to ground the effort for 10 months.

Solar Impulse is no heavier than a car, but has the wingspan of a Boeing 747. It is powered by 17,000 solar cells. Its experimental design presents a number of technical difficulties, with the airplane being very sensitive to weather conditions.

The cockpit is about the size of a public telephone box, with the pilots having to wear oxygen tanks to breathe at high altitude and permitted to only sleep for 20 minutes at a time.

Indeed, the passage from Cairo was very bumpy for Mr Piccard as he battled severe turbulence above the hot Saudi desert.

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