Solar-powered plane completes 26-hour flight

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Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Solar Impulse solar-powered aircraft.
Image: Matth1.

The Solar Impulse, an experimental solar-powered airplane, landed in Switzerland on Thursday after completing a successful 26-hour test flight. The flight was a proof-of-concept displaying that a solar-powered aircraft can accumulate enough power from the sun during the day to power it through the night. The team that designed and built the aircraft believes that, in theory, the plane could fly indefinitely, given that there is enough sunlight to power it.

The flight is the longest and highest flight by a piloted solar-powered aircraft, with an average altitude of about 28,000 feet, and an average speed of around 25 miles per hour. Pilot Andre Borschberg, a former fighter pilot in the Swiss air force, said "I've been a pilot for forty years now, but this flight has been the most incredible of my flying career. Just sitting there and watching the battery charge level rise and rise thanks to the sun. I have just flown more than 26 hours without using a drop of fuel and without causing any pollution."

The plane can carry only one passenger, and contains 12,000 solar cells. However, the plane does have its setbacks; a blog on the project's website reported after seventeen hours of flight that "Andre's feeling great up there. His only complaints involve little things like a slightly sore back as well as a ten-hour period during which it was minus twenty degrees Celsius in the cockpit. That made his drinking water system freeze up and worst of all his iPod batteries die."

The project's intention is to show that emissions-free air travel is a feasible concept; however, the team does not believe that current propulsion methods will be replaced by alternatives in the near future.