A complete 26-hour test flight with a solar plane
Solar Impulse, a solar-powered aircraft with nearly 12,000 separate solar cells and a project co-founded by Swiss balloonist Bertrand Piccard, completed a 26-hour test flight in Switzerland after taking off from an airfield in Payerne, 80 miles northeast of Geneva.
Bertrand Piccard, who piloted the first nonstop balloon flight around the world in 1999 in the Breitling Orbiter III, said that: “The goal of the project is to have a solar-powered plane flying day and night without fuel and the test flight was crucial for the credibility of the project”.
The plane was piloted by Andre Borschberg and flew to a height of nearly 8,500 meters and according to his statement for the New York Times, this was one amazing experience as a pilot: “I’ve been a pilot for 40 years now, but this flight has been the most incredible one of my flying career. 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 plane descended to an altitude of 4,500 feet (1,500 meters) during the evening and for the rest of the night it used the battery power.
The plane is equipped with four electric engines and has a top speed of about 43 miles (70 kilometers) per hour, with a wingspan of more than 206 feet (63 meters), similar to the Airbus A340, weighing about 3,500 pounds (1,600 kilograms) and is nearly 72 feet (22 meters) long.
The same team members hope to fly Solar Impulse around the world in five stages in 2012, after designing a second airplane to withstand the long distances such as flying across the entire Atlantic Ocean or even the continents.11