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Solar-Powered Airplane Embarks On Attempt To Fly Around The World

A handout image from Solar Impulse 2 shows the solar-powered airplane flying at the start of an attempt to make a historic round-the-world journey. Getty Images hide caption

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A handout image from Solar Impulse 2 shows the solar-powered airplane flying at the start of an attempt to make a historic round-the-world journey.

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It weighs as much as an SUV, but its wingspan is wider than a 747's. And Monday, a solar-powered airplane flew over the Gulf of Oman, starting what its pilots hope will be a record-setting trip around the world.

The trip began Monday morning in Abu Dhabi, where Andre Borschberg, one of two rotating pilots, took off on a 215-mile trip to Muscat, Oman, that required about 13 hours. On Tuesday, the plane will fly to India.

Monday's nighttime landing featured the unique sight of the plane slowly making its way down to the runway, its expansive wings illuminated by some 18 lights that made it resemble a hovering UFO from a sci-fi movie.

The organization behind the project says it hopes the Solar Impulse 2 will finish circumnavigating the Earth by July of this year.

You can track the plane's path on the Solar Impulse website, as well as on FlightRadar 24 and on Twitter.

As for the aircraft's technical makeup, its surface includes 17,000 solar cells; it incorporates both carbon-fiber ribs and a honeycomb structure that its developer says is "made of paper impregnated with the Torlon PAI polymer."

Lithium-ion batteries account for about 1,400 of the craft's overall weight of some 5,000 pounds.

NPR has reported on the first Solar Impulse model in recent years, from examining its technology in 2013 to its crossing of the United States back in 2012.