Solar Impulse: Successful night flight with solar energy in Switzerland

After flying for more than 26 hours, test pilot André Borschberg has completed the first ever night flight by a solar-powered airplane. The Solar Impulse aircraft touched down at 9 a.m. local time on Thursday, July 8th 2010 at its home airfield in Payerne, Switzerland, after breaking records for the highest and longest solar flight in history. “I’ve been a pilot for 40 years now, but this flight has been the most incredible one of my flying career,” Borschberg said in a statement. “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.” After taking off early Wednesday morning, Borschberg spent the day climbing to higher altitudes and charging the polymer lithium batteries using the nearly 12,000 solar cells. As the sun was setting, the airplane known by its Swiss identifier HB-SIA was near its maximum altitude of 28,097 feet (8,564 meters). At this point the team had fully charged batteries and maximum potential energy to descend slowly through the night. After a final check of the weather forecast, the decision was made to continue flying through the night. By this time Borschberg was suffering through a few difficulties. His water had frozen, though perhaps more importantly, so had his iPod. After more than 14 hours of flying, the pilot prepared for a relatively thirsty, cold and quiet flight in the tiny cockpit. Borschberg co-founded the Solar Impulse project with aviator Bertrand Piccard. No stranger to long flights, Piccard made history in 1999 completing the first nonstop flight around the world in a balloon. More informations, videos and pictures here and here.

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