Solar plane makes maiden flight; theoretically can stay airborne indefinitely

Aircraft spent 2 hours and 17 minutes in the air

BERLIN - A Swiss-made solar-powered aircraft has made a successful inaugural flight as its makers prepare for what they hope will be the first round-the-world solar flight.

The Solar Impulse 2 team said the aircraft spent 2 hours and 17 minutes in the air above western Switzerland early Monday.

The plane soaks up energy from the sun through some 17,200 solar cells that cover its massive wings, which span 72 meters (236 feet).

Theoretically, the plane can stay airborne indefinitely, said Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg, the project's founders.

"Solar Impulse is the only airplane of perpetual endurance, able to fly day and night on solar power, without a drop of fuel," the website states.

The Solar Impulse 2 is a bigger and better version of a single-seat prototype that first took flight five years ago.

Piccard and Borschberg hope to fly the aircraft around the world next year.

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