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  • 'Solar Impulse 2,' a solar-powered plane piloted by Bertrand Piccard of Switzerland, flies over the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco, California. | Photo: Reuters

Published 3 May 2016

The aircraft began its voyage in March 2015 from Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates.

A solar-powered airplane, midway through a historic bid to circle the globe, completed the 10th leg of its journey Monday, landing in Arizona after a 16-hour flight from California, the project team said. 

Flying the aircraft as part of a campaign to build support for clean energy technologies, the Swiss team eventually hopes to complete its circumnavigation in Abu Dhabi, where the journey began in March 2015.

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The spindly, single-seat experimental aircraft, dubbed Solar Impulse 2, arrived in Phoenix shortly before 9 p.m. local time, following a flight from San Francisco that took it over the Mojave Desert.

The flight would have taken a conventional airplane just two hours, but the cruising speed of the aircraft is akin to that of a car, and even required the pilots to take up meditation and hypnosis training to remain alert for long periods.

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Occupying the tiny cockpit for the trip was project co-founder Andre Borschberg, who alternates with fellow pilot Bertrand Piccard at the controls for each segment of what they hope will be the first round-the-world solar-powered flight.

"I made it to Phoenix, what an amazing flight over the Mojave desert," Borschberg said in a Twitter post.

Borschberg was the pilot for the Japan-to-Hawaii trip over the Pacific last July, staying airborne for nearly 118 hours.

That shattered the 76-hour world duration record for a non-stop, solo flight set in 2006 by the late American adventurer Steve Fossett in his Virgin Atlantic Global Flyer. It also set new duration and distance records for a solar-powered flight. The feat, however, dealt a setback to the Solar Impulse, which suffered severe battery damage, requiring repairs and testing that grounded it in Hawaii for nine months.

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Piccard completed the trans-Pacific crossing last month, reaching San Francisco after a flight of nearly three days, more than three times the 18 hours Amelia Earhart took to fly solo from Hawaii to California in the 1930s.

The biggest difference is that the propeller-driven Solar Impulse flies without a drop of fuel, its four engines powered solely by energy collected from more than 17,000 solar cells built into its wings.

Surplus power is stored in four batteries during the day, to keep the plane aloft on extreme long-distance flights.

The carbon-fiber plane, with a wingspan exceeding that of a Boeing 747 and the weight of a family car, is unlikely to set speed or altitude records. It can climb to 28,000 feet, and cruise at 34 to 62 mph. 

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