Success 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].
As I write this, a plane powered by the sun is flying somewhere over Europe, undertaking its most ambitious test flight yet.
When we last left the Solar Impulse back in April, the experimental aircraft had flown a two-hour test to prove it was flight-worthy. Today, the pilot in the plane, which weighs about as much as a car and is covered in 12,000 solar cells, will try to stay aloft for 24 hours, even cruising along during the nighttime hours.
“The goal of the project is to have a solar-powered plane flying day and night without fuel,” said team co-founder Bertrand Piccard, adding that this test flight – the third major step after its first ‘flea hop’ and an extended flight earlier this year – will demonstrate whether the ultimate plan is feasible: to fly the plane around the world. “This flight is crucial for the credibility of the project” [AP].