Mission Accomplished: Solar Plane Completes 26-Hour Test Flight

By Andrew Moseman | July 8, 2010 8:54 am

Solar_ImpulseBlackSuccess for Solar Impulse: This morning the solar-powered plane touched down in Switzerland after more than 26 hours in the sky—including flying overnight on battery power.

As we noted yesterday, this was by far the most ambitious test of adventurer Bertrand Piccard’s experimental aircraft, which is covered by 12,000 solar cells. Swiss pilot André Borschberg had to decide last night whether those cells had absorbed enough battery power during the day to coast through the night, and he managed to do it.

“I’ve been a pilot for 40 years now, but this flight has been the most incredible one of my flying career,” Mr. Borschberg said as he landed, according to a statement from the organizers of the project. “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 New York Times].

Sun power won’t replace jet fuel anytime soon, of course. Staying aloft on battery power meant scrimping on luxuries, so Borschberg spent the night flying in a cramped cockpit at below-zero temperatures that made his iPod freeze up—so no listening to sweeping arias while coasting over the majestic Swiss landscape for Mr. Borschberg.

Spartan quarters aside, the next challenge calls to Piccard and Solar Impulse: flying around the world. Now that the plane has flown a day, he wants to show that it can fly without end.

The team says it has now demonstrated that the single-seat plane can theoretically stay in the air indefinitely, recharging its depleted batteries using 12,000 solar cells and nothing but the rays of the sun during the day [AP].

Related Content:
80beats: Sunshine-Powered Plane Takes Off for a 24-Hour Test Flight
80beats: Flying the Sunny Skies: Solar-Powered Plane Completes Two-Hour Test Flight
80beats: Meet the “Puffin,” NASA’s One-Man Electric Plane
DISCOVER: Who’s Flying This Thing?

Image: Solar Impulse

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Technology
  • Jens

    Impressive feat.

    A minor quibble: the picture with this post is not a picture of the plane used. The actual plane has four propellers on the wings.

  • http://discovermagazine.com Andrew Moseman


    Thanks for the note. I believe that on their own site, Solar Impulse now has posted some photos of the test flight.

  • http://www.diysolarpanels.net/ Gene @ Diy Solar

    We are on the verge of making oil obsolete for transportation. Oil is already obsolete for ground vehicles. We have already proven that cars, trucks and trains can run on electricity alone. This solar powered plane is beginning to prove that we can also run planes on electricity. The only reason we are still using vast quantities of oil is because big oil has made enormous efforts to destroy the electric car industry.

  • mike

    Wrong, Gene. What it shows is how unrealistic this techno is– 1 guy freezing his a** off falling in the dark slowly enough to avoid hiting the ground before the sun comes up… Oh yea, and the car thing? Even if the build every battery they can, and the gov’t subsidizes each sale paying buyers $8700 ea to fall for the gimmick, you’re talking about maybe 3% of this country’s transpo needs, and that’s without taking into account the rest of the world. Keep dreaming, friend.


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