Solar Impulse 2 finally completes round-the-world flight

  • 26/07/2016
Solar Impulse 2 takes off from Cairo on its final leg (Getty)
Solar Impulse 2 takes off from Cairo on its final leg (Getty)

A solar-powered aircraft has successfully completed the first fuel-free flight around the world, returning to Abu Dhabi after an epic 16-month voyage that demonstrated the potential of renewable energy.

The plane, Solar Impulse 2, touched down in the United Arab Emirates capital at 12.05pm (NZ time) on Tuesday.

It first took off from Abu Dhabi on March 9, 2015, beginning a landmark journey of about 40,000km around the globe and nearly 500 hours of flying.

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Unfavourable weather at times hindered smooth flying, causing the plane to be grounded for months in some countries.

Swiss explorers Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg, Solar Impulse founders and pilots, took turns piloting the aircraft with a wingspan larger than a Boeing 747 and weighing only as much as a family car.

The Swiss team is campaigning to bolster support for clean energy.

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The propeller-driven aircraft's four engines are powered exclusively by energy collected from more than 17,000 solar cells built the plane's wings. Excess energy is stored in four batteries during daylight hours to keep the plane flying after dark.

Over its entire mission, Solar Impulse 2 cruised at altitudes of up to 9000 metres and at an average speed of between 45 and 90km/h.

The plane had 16 stopovers along the way including in Oman, India, Myanmar, China, Japan, the United States, Spain and Egypt.

Abu Dhabi's green energy firm Masdar is the official host partner of Solar Impulse 2.

Oil-rich Abu Dhabi is investing billions in industry, tourism and renewables to diversify its economy away from oil.