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Environment

Mission Accomplished: Solar Plane Completes 26-Hour Test Flight

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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].

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

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