The HB-SIA 'Solar Impulse' Becomes the First Solar Powered Plane to Complete a 24-Hour Flight

The SolarImpulse team celebrated a historic moment on Thursday morning as pilot André Borschberg landed a solar-powered plane in Payerne, in the canton of Vaud, after a 26-hour flight.

Borschberg, 57, guided the slender four-engined aircraft onto the runway at 9 am after using power stored in batteries to keep it flying in circles after the sun went down.

Ground crew members ran alongside to prevent the plane, with its massive 63-metre wingspan, from toppling sideways.

A Swiss pilot is expected to take to the skies as soon as tomorrow in a plane outfitted with 12,000 solar cells glued to its wings. He will be looking to the sun to power his aircraft, during both the light of day and the dark of night.

The mission, weather permitting, will mark the world's first manned 24-hour solar flight.

In a specially designed plane with a 63.4-meter wingspan -- roughly the size of a Boeing 747 jumbo jet -- and a weight carefully slimmed down to be about that of a family car, André Borschberg plans to give aircraft a new benchmark.

The Solar Impulse aircraft known as HB-SIA is in the middle of its first 24-hour flight including a complete day/night cycle. The aircraft took off from its home airfield in Payerne, Switzerland, shortly before 7 a.m. local time on Wednesday (1 a.m. Eastern time). It will spend the day climbing to an altitude to nearly 28,000 feet (8,500 meters) while charging its batteries.

Just before sunset, pilot André Borschberg will decide whether or not to continue the flight through the night. Once darkness falls over the Swiss countryside, the aircraft will fly on battery power. If the night flight is attempted, Borschberg will very slowly descend to around 5,000 feet (1,500 meters) before making a dawn landing back at the home airfield in Payerne.

Slender as a stick insect, a solar-powered experimental airplane with a huge wingspan completed its first test flight of more than 24 hours on Thursday, powered overnight by energy collected from the sun during a day aloft over Switzerland.

The organizers said the flight was the longest and highest by a piloted solar-powered craft, reaching an altitude of just over 28,000 feet above sea level at an average speed of 23 knots, or about 26 miles per hour.