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Solar-powered plane lands in Morocco after 20 hour trip from Madrid

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June 5, 2012: The Solar Impulse HB-SIA experimental aircraft is pulled out a hanger at Barajas airport in Madrid, Spain.AP

An experimental solar-powered plane landed in Morocco's capital late Tuesday after a 20-hour trip from Madrid in the first transcontinental flight by a craft of its type.

With the wing span of a Boeing 777, the plane appeared out of the pitch darkness over the runway, suddenly turning on its lights and gliding to a landing in Rabat, the four propellors that flew it already silent.

The single-seat aircraft is fitted with 12,000 solar cells across its immense wings and weighs just as much as the average family car, according to organizers.

The plane is the first of its kind to fly both during the night and day as the solar panels charge the batteries that power its turbo-props.

Pilot Bertrand Piccard descended from the plane and said the Solar Impulse project had chosen Morocco because of its pioneering work in solar energy.

"This is why we wanted to be here," he said. "This is why we accepted the invitation of the Moroccan solar energy agency.

Morocco is set to begin construction on a huge solar energy farm in the south as part of an ambitious project to lessen its dependence on fossil fuels.

Solar Impulse arrived from Switzerland in late May on the first leg of the journey.

The mission is being described as a final dress rehearsal for a round-the-world flight with a new and improved plane in 2014.

The project began in 2003 and is estimated to cost about $100 million over 10 years.

The two-leg Europe to Africa trip covers 1,554 miles.