A Swiss-made solar-powered aircraft took off just after dawn today from Muscat, Oman, bound for India for the second leg—and its first sea crossing—in a historic round-the-world trip. Pilot Bertrand Piccard was at the controls of the single-seater Solar Impulse 2, which is making the 910-mile journey from Muscat to Ahmedabad without a drop of fuel. It will take an estimated 16 hours of flying as it crosses over the Arabian Sea to India. The aircraft's wings are covered by more than 17,000 solar cells that recharge the plane's batteries; its wingspan is 236 feet, spanning larger than a Boeing 747 jumbo jet, but it weighs just 5,070 pounds, or about as much as a minivan. It flies ideally at around 25 knots, or 28mph.
Yesterday, André Borschberg, who co-founded the Solar Impulse company that built the plane, flew the Si2 from Abu Dhabi, the capital of United Arab Emirates, to nearby Oman in the first leg of the epic journey. Si2 is slated to make 12 stops during its 21,700-mile journey, including in China and Myanmar, before it crosses over the Pacific Ocean. It will then land in Hawaii and the US Midwest and East Coast before flying over the Atlantic Ocean. It may also stop in southern Europe or North Africa, depending on weather conditions. Some legs of the trip, such as over the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, will mean five days and five nights of flying solo. Both pilots have been training hard for this journey, which will span 25 flight days over five months. (Read more solar power stories.)