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article imageA new world first as solar powered plane makes a night flight

By Stephanie Dearing     Jul 8, 2010 in Technology
Payerne - A new record has been set. An airplane powered solely by energy generated from the sun flew for 26 hours, completing a continuous day and night flight.
It was the first time a solar-powered plane flew all night long. Wired reported the first part of the plane's test, the daytime flight, was smooth and uneventful. With all systems go, The Solar Impulse team gave the green light for the night-time flight with the plane known as "HB-SIA."
The HB-SIA touched down in Payerne, Switzerland early Thursday morning. The plane had been piloted by the CEO for Solar Impulse, Andre Borschberg, who sat in a cockpit that was open to the elements. The other key principal of Solar Impluse, Betrand Piccard, told a media scrum "Nothing can prevent us from another day and night, and the myth of perpetual flight."
An earlier test flight in June was meant to go day and night, but the test lasted 14 hours. A second attempt was planned for July 1, but equipment troubles grounded the plane. The repairs took until July 6, and the plane finally (to the relief of the Solar Impulse team) took to the skies on July 7th.
During the flight, the plane climbed to an altitude of 28,000 feet. The flight path was calculated to take into account the angle of the sun so as to avoid draining the batteries of the power generated by the solar cells on the wings.
Piccard, said the idea for the plane was inspired in part by doom sayers and represents "... a symbol ... [of] ideas on different ways of inventing the present and the future.
... Nothing irritates us more than narrow-mindedness, mean stupidity, lack of vision and dogmatism..."
It took seven years to design the plane, USA Today reported. The plane was built in 2008, taking 8 months to complete. After being built, the plane underwent extensive testing to ensure the structure would be safe. The Solar Impulse had its first in-flight tests last year, described by the team as "flea-hops." As testing progressed, the plane was put into longer and longer test flights, culminating in the 24 hour test.
The plane was created to be as light as possible and resembles a glider, with a wingspan of 64 meters. The plane is not a glider, however, having four engines.
In order to raise funds for the new airplane, the inventors not only opened up their venture to investors, but they also allowed general members of the public to adopt a solar cell, which could be personalized. Al Gore and Prince Albert of Monaco were two notable sponsors of the 550 who had signed up by September last year.
The next step for Solar Impulse is to build an improved version of the HB-SIA, which the teams plans to fly around the world starting in 2011.
Piccard and Borschberg were awarded with Germany's Braunschweig prize last fall for their work on the plane.
Piccard has flown around the world in a hot air balloon, setting new speed and distance records. The 1999 trip took Piccard and co-pilot Brian Jones 19 days to complete.
The outspoken Piccard does not hesitate to share his opinons about climate change and the human lack of response to act to halt global warming. Saying there is no "planet B," Piccard was critical of last year's climate change pact reached by world leaders. "It speaks of course of the danger of CO2 emissions. But not a line on the dangers of their origin, that is our aberrant dependence on fossil fuels. Even without climate change, it is urgent to apply those technologies that allow us to do without oil. Its increasing rarity, and price rises that will inevitably ensue, will destroy our industrial and economic system well before the Maldives Islands have disappeared under rising sea levels."
More about Solar powered airplane, Solar impulse, Green energy, Solar technology, Andre borschberg
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