Image: Solar Impulse plane
AFP - Getty Images
This undated picture shows a digital representation of the prototype solar powered aircraft HB-SIA. Swiss adventurer Bertrand Piccard is confident he can fly a solar-powered airplane on the first round-the-world trip of its kind, even though he needs more money to build the craft.
updated 2/18/2008 6:05:46 PM ET 2008-02-18T23:05:46

Swiss adventurer Bertrand Piccard said Monday he is confident he can fly a solar-powered airplane on the first round-the-world trip of its kind, even though he needs more money to build the craft.

Piccard, who piloted the first hot-air balloon nonstop around the world in 1999, said construction work had begun on a prototype of the "SolarImpulse" plane, which he believes can fly day and night with no fuel or emissions.

"What we need now is to have the second part of the funding, for the second airplane to fly around the world. So we're looking for other partners, if possible in Asia or America," Piccard said on the sidelines of a news conference in Singapore announcing a partnership between his Solar Impulse project and the International Air Transport Association, or IATA.

IATA said it will support the project by helping with matters such as obtaining air traffic control clearance.

Piccard said Solar Impulse has already raised $60 million but needed $90 million for the whole project, which aims in part to demonstrate the feasibility of flying on solar energy.

Piccard, who founded the project in 2003, said that the team was slightly behind schedule but that he remained confident the plane would make its first round-the-world attempt in 2011 as hoped.

"We are a little bit late. We wanted to make the first test flight this summer but will probably make it in the beginning of next year," Piccard said.

He said his team had taken extra time with simulations "to be more certain to be accurate with our results."

The craft will have a wingspan of 262.5 feet — slightly wider than that of the giant new Airbus A380, the world's largest passenger plane. The large wings will provide maximum surface area for the solar cells that will power the craft.

The plane will hold only one person — the pilot. Plans call for the flight to be conducted in four stages over 15 days, with stops on several continents to switch pilots.

The airline industry is under pressure to find ways to reduce carbon emissions and tackle fuel costs. IATA, which represents about 240 airlines, has set a target of achieving the technology to fly with zero carbon emissions within the next 50 years.

Piccard comes from a long line of adventurers. In 1931, his grandfather Auguste became the first man to take a balloon into the stratosphere. His father, Jacques, designed the bathyscaphe, a deep-sea submarine in which he plunged almost seven 7 miles to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean's Mariana Trench in 1960.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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