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Solar-powered plane makes 19-hour flight

What's billed as the first intercontinental flight for a solar-powered aircraft landed late Tuesday night in Rabat, Morocco after a 19-hour journey from Madrid, Spain.

"The flight over the Gibraltar straight was a magical moment," pilot and adventurer Bertrand Piccard, who has already circumnavigated the world by balloon, said upon arrival at the Rabat airport. He told reporters that his Solar Impulse craft came to Morocco "out of admiration for Morocco's pioneering solar energy program," according to the Associated Press.

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The single-seat aircraft has 12,000 solar cells spread across a wingspan similar to that of a large commercial jet airliner. Organizers say it weighs, however, about as much as an average family car.

Solar Impulse made the first leg of its journey, from Switzerland to Madrid, in late May but since it can only fly in ideal weather, it had to wait for the right conditions to continue on toward Morocco. It climbed up to 27,000 feet and reached top speeds of more than 75 miles per hour.

Piccard said the plane isn't meant to replace conventional airplanes but rather to show what solar energy can accomplish. "All of the technology on this plane can be used in daily life," he said, reports AP.

His project, begun in 2003, aims for a round-the-world flight with a new, upgraded plane in 2014. Estimated to have cost about $100 million, it has received funding from major corporations, including Deutsche Bank, Bayer and Schindler.


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