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Plane maker reaches for the sun

Shanghai-based model aircraft company OXAI, which test flew a man-powered plane last month, is to build solar-powered planes despite problems over developing them in China.

"We are considering exporting our plane, because China does not allow low flying," said Mao Yiqing, OXAI's manager.

"The man-powered aircraft was just a test product," he said. "Because human power is easy to control, we want to reduce the risk to the minimum level before we add stronger power to our plane. We refine the design of the plane through trial and error in every test flight," said Mao. "On March 26, we tested the plane's ability to take off and land. We will test its controllability in another test in June."

The company plans to use solar power as the power source in its final product.

"We are more capable of producing a sophisticated solar-battery system than a diesel engine, not to mention that it is environmental friendly," said Mao, "though we haven't found a proper solar battery supplier so far."

Plans to develop the plane in China may fall foul of stringent Chinese air control laws. "There are certain rules to follow when it comes to flying objects because it concerns flight laws. No matter how low it flies, the country does not allow anything to fly in the lower sky region," said Qing Gang, an official with the Civil Aviation Administration Bureau of East China.

After the 1960s, and the invention of lighter and firmer materials, the development of man-powered flight quickened. In 1979, an American-sponsored plane, "Gossamer Albatross" flew across the English Channel. In 1988, NASA, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Greek government flew a man-powered plane for 116 kilometers.

China's man-powered aircraft made its debut in Shanghai.

It rose 2.8 meters above the ground and stayed in the sky for 20 seconds.


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