Solar-Powered Plane Lands Safely After Night Flight

A celebration is underway in Switzerland as the first pilot to fly a solar-powered plane through the night lands safely. The project, Solar Impulse, also includes plans for a round-the-world flight.

The Solar Impulse HB-SIA, with pilot Andr??« Borschberg at its controls, successfully landed Thursday morning in Switzerland after flying through the night, a first-ever feat that was heralded by the organization which built the plane at the ??½cole Polytechnique F??«d??«rale de Lausanne, as a major milestone on the way to a round-the-world flight in a solar-powered aircraft.

The plane was up in the air on Wednesday for the entire day, then through the night, flying solely on solar energy, marking the longest and highest in the history of solar aviation, according to the organization. On the project's Web site, those involved with the project wrote the next important milestones for Solar Impulse will be the crossing the Atlantic and the around the world flight, using the second prototype which goes into construction this summer.

"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. And then that suspense, not knowing whether we were going to manage to stay up in the air the whole night. And finally the joy of seeing the sun rise and feeling the energy beginning to circulate in the solar panels again," said Borschberg, CEO and co-founder of the Solar Impulse project. "I have just flown more than 26 hours without using a drop of fuel and without causing any pollution."

The HB-SIA is a one-seater, capable of taking off under its own power, and intended to remain airborne up to 36 hours, according to the company. Building on the experience of this prototype, a slightly larger follow-on design, HB-SIB, is planned to make circumnavigation of the globe in 20-25 days. The team said it hopes that a round-the-world flight will be possible in 2012. That flight would circle the world in the northern hemisphere near the equator, with five stops are planned to change pilots. Each leg would last three to four days, "limited by the physiology of the human pilot."

"Bravo Andr??«! You have just proved that what I have been dreaming about for the last 11 years, is possible", Bertrand Piccard, initiator and president of the project, said as the HB-SIA touched down. "This is a crucial step forward, it gives full credibility to the speeches we hold since years about renewable energies and CleanTechs and allows us now to get closer to the perpetual flight without using a drop of fuel." Piccard then reportedly ran over to hug his partner, both men "full of tears."