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25 May - 5 June: Payerne-Madrid-Rabat

The first intercontinental flight

At dawn on 25 May 2012, André Borschberg, co-founder of the project, took off from Payerne aerodrome in Switzerland: the "Crossing Frontiers 2012" mission had been launched. The driving force behind the Solar/Altran team as the plane took to the air was the desire to push back the boundaries in order to highlight the potential of renewable energies, an objective which helped all those involved to take up the challenges soon to be encountered in total peace of mind.

At 6.24 a.m. (UTC), when very few of us were even awake, the Solar Impulse team was wide awake and on the job, some studying the weather forecasts, others leaving for the safety airport in Toulouse and André Borschberg flying over the Swiss countryside waiting for the first rays of the sun to start recharging the plane. A few hours later, the plane had already crossed the Massif Central.

Within the team, the Altran experts had calculated and recalculated the optimum flight path. Their reactivity proved indispensable when a storm threatened the successful crossing of the Pyrenees: an alternative course further to the west was plotted in real time. In the end, the HB-SIA crossed the mountain chain without incident at an altitude of 7,833 metres.

At 1.28 in the morning (UTC+2), after 17 hours of flight, the solar plane reached Madrid-Barajas international airport for a scheduled mid-journey technical stopover and a change of pilot.

On 5 June, at 5.22 a.m. (UTC+2), it was Bertrand Piccard's turn to take the controls. Setting a course for Seville, he then crossed the Straits of Gibraltar separating Europe from Africa before heading for Tangiers. After a journey covering 830 km, the solar plane landed in Rabat at 11.30 p.m. (UTC +1).

This first two-stage intercontinental flight was crucial: for the very first time, the solar plane went beyond the borders of continental Europe, a strong signal to "increase awareness and mark people's minds," according to Bertrand Piccard. In addition to the symbolic nature of the journey, this mission enabled the team to test and improve the organisation of future flights: for the very first time, the plane encountered international air traffic and different geographical zones which were much more difficult to manage (the Mediterranean, the Pyrenees). The success of this first intercontinental flight augured well for the following flights and the round-the-world trip scheduled for 2015.