A pioneering solar plane which recently broke a world record for continuous flight is preparing for its latest mission - to fly above the Amazon. Jim Drury reports.
AtlantikSolar is already a world record breaker, but the unmanned plane is set for a new challenge. Its student crew from ETH Zurich will next week fly the solar plane across the Amazon rainforest. SOUNDBITE (English) PHD STUDENT AT AUTONOMOUS SYSTEMS LABORATORY, ETH ZURICH, PHILIPP OETTERSHAGEN, SAYING: "We will fly for more than 400 kilometres straight, so continuously on solar power alone and autonomously too and we'll be mapping and recording atmospheric data during this time over the Amazon rainforest." Solar modules power up energy-dense batteries during daylight, allowing it to fly through the night. In July the plane flew continuously for 81 hours, the flight endurance world record for any aircraft below 50 kilograms. It was also the third-longest flight ever demonstrated by a solar plane and the fifth-longest of any aircraft, both manned and unmanned. Now the focus is on proving the plane's endurance, so future models could be used in search and rescue missions. SOUNDBITE (English) PHD STUDENT AT AUTONOMOUS SYSTEMS LABORATORY, ETH ZURICH, PHILIPP OETTERSHAGEN, SAYING: "What you want to have is a long flight endurance, so you want to be able to map the whole area and specifically a large area over a long time, in order to basically provide the rescuers with up-to-date imagery." SOUNDBITE (English) PROFESSOR OF AUTONOMOUS SYSTEMS AT ETH ZURICH, ROLAND SIEGWART, SAYING: "Imagine that you have an aircraft which we recently had, which is lost, in the ocean, you can imagine these are small airplanes, you have probably a fleet of them, 50, 100, and you really cover big areas. So you just fly them out in the ocean and then they can take images and then you can analyse images and then probably find people and find lost airplanes and so on." Cameras and atmospheric sensors will be fitted to the fixed-wing 6.8 kilogram plane. The-five strong team will launch AtlantikSolar from the Brazilian city of Belem.