Solar plane makes it safely through the night

Solar Impulse has successfully completed its first night flight, the first solar-powered plane to do so.

The plane landed back at the Payerne airfield in Switzerland bang on time at 9.00am – 3.00am EDT – this morning after a 24 hour flight.

“The deal is done, we’ve won, we’ve won! HB-SIA and pilot André Boschberg are back from the night skies,” says team member Lucas Chambers.

“It took a lot of persuading to keep the Solar Impulse staff, media people and fascinated citizens from rushing the airplane here at the Payerne airfield. The plane is now being secured, and then let the good times roll, baby!”

The team says the successful flight demonstrates that solar powered aircraft can be more than just a gimmick – a 24 hour flight shows, in theory, that the plane could stay up indefinitely, fuelled only by the power of the sun.

As sunset fell yesterday evening, pilot Andre Borschberg was flying over the Jura mountains at about 30,000 feet, and had to make the decision as to whether to continue through the night or call a halt.

But the team reckoned – correctly, clearly – that the solar cells covering the plane’s wings had absorbed enough light to make it through the hours of darkness.

“When you took off it was another era,” AP reports co-founder Bertrand Piccard telling Borschberg. “You land in a new era where people understand that with renewable energy you can do impossible things.”

The achievement – seven years in the making – is only the first step. The Solar Impulse team plans next to cross the Atlantic on solar power alone. Eventually, they hope to make a round the world trip.