Solar plane basks in Indian sun, arrives in Varanasi

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Solar plane basks in Indian sun, arrives in Varanasi

Ahmedabad stopover extended twice due to unfavourable weather

By Mahesh Trivedi

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Published: Fri 20 Mar 2015, 12:28 AM

Last updated: Thu 25 Jun 2015, 10:34 PM

Ahmedabad - The world’s first solar plane finally took off for Varanasi in India on Wednesday morning after extending its stopover in Ahmedabad twice. Solar Impulse 2 (Si2) had landed in Ahmedabad on March 10.

Si2 began the third leg of its 35,000-km, round-the-globe journey at 7.18am after last-minute customs clearance formalities delayed its departure by about two hours.

Piloted by Andre Borschberg, the project’s co-founder, the single-seater, slow-moving, 2,300-kg aircraft reached the spiritual capital of India on Wednesday after covering 1,071km in 15 hours. In Varanasi, there will be an eight-hour overnight pit-stop before heading to Myanmar.

People wait to see Solar Impulse 2 take off from Ahmedabad on Wednesday. — Photo by Salman Shaikh

Technical support teams of Si2 had reached Varanasi on Sunday, and in Mandalay in Myanmar on Monday, for making arrangements for the landing of the unique flying machine, which is on a five-month-long adventure with 12 scheduled halts and 25 flight days.

Though Varanasi has been witnessing intermittent rain since Sunday, the local meteorological department had forecast clear skies for yesterday.

The Si2, which first delayed its take-off to Varanasi by two days till Tuesday due to bad weather in Ahmedabad, again postponed the flight till Wednesday, citing fog in the northern city in Uttar Pradesh.

By failing to reach the temple town of Varanasi on Tuesday, the pilots, who will be hovering over the River Ganga, have missed a rare aerial view of an annual religious ritual marked by devotional music and decorated boats in the river.

From Varanasi, the aircraft will fly to Myanmar today, from where it will head to Chongqing and Nanjing in China. After crossing the Pacific Ocean via Hawaii, the monoplane will fly across the US, stopping at Phoenix, the Midwest and New York city.

After crossing the Atlantic Ocean, the final legs include a stop-over in southern Europe or North Africa before returning in late July to Abu Dhabi, from where it had set off on the record-breaking mission on March 9.

Swiss pilots Borschberg, who piloted the maiden leg from Abu Dhabi to Muscat, and Bertrand Piccard, who did the second leg from Muscat to Ahmedabad, are taking turns at the controls of the plane. Si2 has been built not just to fly around the world without burning a drop of fuel, but also to demonstrate the effectiveness of clean technologies and importance of sustainability.

Si2 has already set a record by flying solo across the Arabian Sea without any fossil fuel when it winged from Muscat to Ahmedabad — a 1,465-km journey.

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