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Solar power triumphs in 26-hour night flight

Solar Impulse has become world’s number one plane to complete a 24 hour flight only with the help of 12,000 solar cells that were recharged during the day time. The plane managed to stay aloft overnight.

The Solar Impulse HB-SIA has created history. The giant glider-like aircraft, whose wingspan is the same as an Airbus A340, set record for the longest and highest solar flight.

Flown by Andre Borschberg, a former Swiss air force pilot who has flown for 40 years, the aircraft flew 26 hours, 9 minutes to complete the first night flight propelled only by solar energy.

Pollution free flight
The aircraft touched down today at Payerne near Lake Neuchatel in Switzerland at 0700 GMT. Scores of enthusiasts who had gathered at the site gave a hero's welcome to Borschberg.

An ecstatic Borschberg said, "It was unbelievable, success better than we expected. We almost thought to make it longer, but ... we demonstrated what we wanted to demonstrate so they made me come back, so here I am."

"Before yesterday morning, we didn’t have credibility. It’s time to use this success to demonstrate in the political and economic world how we can use this clean technology," Piccard said.

The flight was "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," Borschberg said.

"I have just flown more than 26 hours without using a drop of fuel and without causing any pollution!" averred the 57-year-old veteran.

The solar-powered airplane has been sponsored by Deutsche Bank, the largest bank in Germany. Swatch Group AG’s Omega brand and Brussels-based Solvay SA are the other main sponsors of the project. France's Altran is the project's engineering partner

Ultimate aim is a worldwide journey
The night journey was part of the Solar Impulse project’s 100 million Swiss franc ($95 million) effort to ultimately pilot a solar radiation powered flight around the globe.

Before that the next milestone is to cross the Atlantic using a second prototype of the aircraft.

The project is led by Swiss adventurer Bertrand Piccard who shot to fame when he completed the first round-the-world flight in a hot air balloon in 1999. Piccard is being ably supported by Borschberg.

"We are on the verge of the perpetual flight," averred Piccard after the successful flight.

"Before yesterday morning, we didn’t have credibility. It’s time to use this success to demonstrate in the political and economic world how we can use this clean technology," Piccard said.

The carbon-fibre aircraft had left for its expedition yesterday at 6:51 a.m. Buoyed by 63-meter wings, the plane rose higher than 9,000 meters (29,000 feet) before sunset yesterday.

It attained a maximum speed of 68 knots (ground speed) with an average speed of 23 knots.

"The success of this first night flight by a solar-powered plane is crucial for the further course of the Solar Impulse project," said the organizers of the project Solar Impulse in an issued statement.

The single-seat plane, which weighs 1,600 kg (3,500 lb), is powered by four electric motors. It is so designed that it can save solar cells in its high-performance lithium batteries.