By Jacob Greber
March 19 (Bloomberg) -- Bertrand Piccard, who along with his co-pilot became
the first to fly around the world in a hot-air balloon, won financial
support from Germany's biggest bank to build a solar-powered aircraft that
can fly around the globe.
The aircraft, with a wing span of 80 meters (264 feet), will be able to take
off and fly using energy from the sun. Deutsche Bank AG Chief Executive
Officer Joseph Ackermann said his bank will contribute 15 million Swiss
francs ($12 million) of the project's estimated 100 million-franc cost.
``Energy demand has become a massive challenge,'' Ackermann, who like
Piccard is from Switzerland, said today at a news conference in Zurich.
``Every effort to address that must be supported.''
The record-breaking flight is planned for May 2011 along the Tropic of
Cancer. Construction of a smaller prototype with a 61- meter wingspan will
begin next month. The first test flights are scheduled for next year. The
biggest challenge will be to develop an aircraft with batteries capable of
storing enough solar energy to fly through the night, said Piccard.
``We're going to show that all the beautiful exploration of the last century
will go on,'' the 49-year-old Piccard said.
Plans for the project, named Solar Impulse, were first announced at the end
of 2003. The wingspan of the aircraft will be about the same as an Airbus
A-380 but a fraction of the weight at two tons.
The pressurized cockpit will have room for one pilot who can fly the
solar-powered plane at up to 12,000 meters. The wings will be encased in a
``skin'' made of ultra-thin solar cells.
In 1999, Piccard and co-pilot Brian Jones became the first to fly around
Earth in a hot-air balloon. Starting in Chateau d'Oex, Switzerland, they
flew west for 45,755 kilometers over 19 days and 21 hours before landing in
Solar Impulse has already attracted some 65 million francs in financing,
said Andre Borschberg, the project's chief executive. The other main
partners include Swatch Group AG's Omega brand and Brussels-based Solvay SA.
To contact the reporter of this story: Jacob Greber in Zurich at
Last Updated: March 19, 2007 11:27 EDT