After flying for over 26 straight hours, pilot André Borschberg landed the solar-powered Solar Impulse HB-SIA airplane to cheers and applause at the Payerne airbase in Switzerland, successfully completing the goal of flying the aircraft through the night. According to Bertrand Piccard, president of Solar Impulse, there was power to spare, with over three hours of energy remaining in the sun-gathering lithium batteries. “This is a highly symbolic moment: flying by night using solely solar power is a stunning manifestation of the potential that clean technologies offer today to reduce the dependency of our society on fossil fuels!” Piccard said. “We are on the verge of the perpetual flight.”
With an official flight time of 26 hours and 9 minutes, the lightweight carbon fiber plane reached a a maximum altitude of 8,700 m (28,543 ft), a top speed of 68 knots (ground speed), an average speed of 23 knots. The HB-SIA flew solely on solar power, gathering and storing it during the daylight hours, and using the energy to fly through the night.
“During the whole of the flight, I just sat there and watched the battery charge level rise and rise! Sitting in a plane producing more energy than it consumes is a fantastic feeling”, said Borschberg, CEO and co-founder of the Solar Impulse project.
The Solar Impulse HB-SIA has 12,000 solar cells built into its 64.3-meter (193-foot) wings, and is a prototype for an aircraft that the Solar Impulse team hope to fly around the world in a continuous flight in 2012.
Solar impulse weights 1,600 kg (3,500 lb), and is powered by four electric motors.
“Nothing can prevent us from another day and night, and the myth of perpetual flight,” a jubilant Piccard said at a press conference following the flight.
Update: Here’s a video from Solar Impulse, as the team waited for the sunrise:
Source: Solar Impulse, Solar Impulse webcast
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