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olar plane makes history after completing round-the-world trip

Solar Impulse 2 has completed the first round-the-world flight by a solar-powered aeroplane, after touching down in Abu Dhabi early on Tuesday.

The final leg of the feat, aimed at showcasing the potential of renewable energy, was a bumpy one, with turbulence driven by hot desert air leaving the solo pilot, Bertrand Piccard, fighting with the controls.

The plane, which has a wingspan wider than a Boeing 747 and carries more than 17,000 solar cells on its wings, began the circumnavigation in March 2015 in Abu Dhabi. It has since crossed both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans using no fossil fuel and has spent more than 23 days in the air.

During daylight, the solar panels charged the plane’s batteries, which make up a quarter of the craft’s 2.3 tonne weight. The pilot also climbed to 29,000 feet during the day and glided down to 5,000 feet at night, to conserve power. The plane flies at about 30mph, although it can go faster if the sun is bright.

The plane could fly almost perpetually but the pilots cannot, due to the gruelling conditions aboard.

The aim of the Solar Impulse adventure was not to develop solar-powered planes for widespread use, but to show the capabilities of renewable energy.

Juliet Davenport, a solar-power pioneer and founder of the UK’s Good Energy firm, said: “It turns out the sky is not the limit. This feat proves the power of solar and I hope starts a revolution in people’s minds about how we use cleaner, greener technologies.”

Solar Impulse’s journey has not been without difficulties. Crosswinds in China caused weeks of delays in 2015 and overheating batteries during the Pacific crossing forced it to spend the winter inside a Hawaiian hangar. The team also overcame financial troubles in 2015 after raising €20m from sponsors.