A team of visionary Swiss engineers and at least one test pilot with nerves of steel have pushed solar-powered flight to the next level, completing an overnight flight that proves solar flight is possible even when the plane's fuel source dips behind the horizon. This morning test-pilot André Borschberg successfully put Solar Impulse HB-SIA on the ground safely after 26 hours and nine minutes of flight powered solely by the sun.
The Swiss-built Solar Impulse airplane is about to enter the darkness today, already several hours into what is slated to become its first all-night flight.
Pilot (and CEO) André Borschberg has been gradually climbing to an altitude of about 27,000 feet, with the plane's 10,748 solar panels soaking up the sun's rays and charging the aircraft's batteries. As darkness falls over Europe, Borschberg will slowly descend to about 5,000 feet, essentially using the plane as a glider before reverting to battery power.
Considering the massive carbon emissions that come from burning jet fuel, air travel is in serious need of a green makeover. To that end, the folks over at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland, have been working on a solar-powered plane since 2003. Now, after six years of testing, they have finally managed to get the plane off the ground.