Solar craft hops the channel

The Solar Challenger, a 175- pound aircraft with an American pilot, became the first solar-powered plane to cross the English Channel. The 22-foot aircraft left Cormeillesen-Vexin, northwest of Paris, Tuesday and landed five hours and 22 minutes later at the Royal Air Force base at Manston. The flight distance was about 180 miles.

The aircraft, with a 47-foot wingspan, was powered by 16,000 solar cells. The cells provide electricity for a 2.7 horsepower motor.

Stephen R. Ptacek, of Golden, Colo., pilot of the Solar Challenger, has been with the project since it began testing last November.

Designer Paul MacCready, who also created the first human-powered plane to cross the channel, said: "there is nothing practical about solar flight -- perhaps it's the least practical. But the solar plane is an unusual symbol of an energy source that should be given a higher priority."

In 1979, Mr. MacCready, who lives in Pasadena. Cal., designed the Gossamer Albatross, a 55-pound man-powered craft. It made the flight to France from England that June, piloted and powered by Bryan Allen.

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