The Swiss experimental aircraft Solar Impulse has completed its first intercontinental flight after crossing the Strait of Gibraltar and landing in Rabat, Morocco, on 5 June.

The solar-powered aircraft flew from its base in Payerne, between Berne and Lausanne, to Rabat as the North African country begins building the first of five planned solar parks in the desert city of Ouarzazate as a renewable energy source.

The journey was conducted with a stopover in Madrid, where the four-engined, single-seat aircraft with a wingspan of 63m (208ft) was serviced for several days and the pilots swapped over.

Solar Impulse flying over Rabat,
Solar Impulse lands at Rabat,

 Solar Impulse

Solar Impulse flies over Rabat (top) before landing (bottom) following its first intercontinetal flight

Solar Impulse founder Bertrand Piccard landed at Rabat-Salé airport at 23:30 local time on 5 June after a 19h flight from Madrid's Barajas airport. The average ground speed along the nearly 1,200km (648nm) route was 51.8km/h (28kt), while the aeroplane reached an altitude of 27,000ft (8,229m).

When the wheels of the approximately 1,600kg (2,645lb) craft touched the surface of Rabat's runway 03, however, the batteries were still fully charged, according to Piccard. He says that this "extraordinary" performance would "increase confidence in new technologies".

Solar Impulse co-founder André Borschberg had piloted the first sector from Payerne to Madrid in a 17h journey with an average speed of 89km/h on 24 May.

The project team was invited by Morocco's Agency of Solar Energy as the country is building the world's largest thermo-solar power plant with a capacity of 160MW. This will form part of five solar parks, which are to produce 2,000MW by 2020.

Source: Flight International