Solar plane cruises to turning point in historic flight

An experimental solar-powered aircraft cruising above Switzerland in a historic bid to fly around the clock approached a turning point in its flight on Wednesday as night-time loomed.

Solar Impulse's mission control team at Payerne airbase in western Switzerland was due to decide shortly before sunset whether to carry on with the pioneering attempt to fly through darkness or order the pilot to land.

"The suspense is still high but we're confident," said team chief Bertrand Piccard as pilot Andre Borschberg approached 8,000 metres (52,800 feet) about 10 hours into the flight.

Solar Impulse's batteries looked set to be at full charge at full altitude, a key target as the team sets out to demonstrate the value of solar energy.

"The day challenge seems to be reached, we still have the night challenge," Piccard told journalists.

The prototype relies on the sun to power the four electric motors and charge the batteries, in theory storing enough energy to last through some seven to eight hours of darkness and land with a boost of sunlight after dawn.

Three factors were due to come into play, including the threat of thunderstorms or wind, oxygen levels on board and the state of the batteries, as well as pilot Borschberg's ability to stay alert.

"If we know that batteries were not full at the end of the climb, then we know it will not be possible to go through the night," Piccard explained.

But the team's weathermen had signalled through the day that conditions were improving to near perfection, while Borschberg appeared to be enjoying himself up in the air.

"Conditions are really beautiful up here, I feel great," the former jet fighter pilot told AFP by radio as he cruised over the Jura hills in northern Switzerland.

"I've been dreaming about this for seven years since we started the project, everybody on the team was looking forward to this very special day and I can tell you I'm really enjoying it," he added.

Borschberg, confined to his seat in the narrow cockpit, snacked on high energy bars, home made sandwiches, French rice pudding (riz au lait) and coffee, Piccard told AFP.

The 57-year-old had no automatic pilot and was in constant touch with the space-like mission control team to keep alert for what could go up to least 25 hours in the air.

His bodily functions and the plane's technical parameters were also monitored second-by-second from the ground.

The single seater shaped like a giant dragonfly is clad with solar panels across a wingspan the size of an Airbus A340 airliner (63 metres), and can change direction substantially with a touch of the controls, pilots said.

The 12,000 solar cells and nearly half a tonne of batteries power four small electric motors and propellors - as the crew put it, the "power of a scooter" - and weighs little more than a saloon car.

"All is uneventful," was the word from mission control.

Solar Impulse took off into clear summer skies at 6:51 am (0451 GMT) on Wednesday.

"The goal is to take to the air with no fuel. The goal is to show that we can be much more independent from fossil energy than people usually think," explained Piccard.

After reaching its apogee of 8,500 metres at sundown, Solar Impulse was expected to make a slow night-time descent.

The overnight flight is the first major hurdle for the project since it was set up seven years ago with the aim of ocean crossings, transcontinental and round the world flights by 2013 or 2014.

A first round-the-clock attempt was called off an hour before scheduled take-off last Thursday after an electronic component failed, but the aircraft has flown for up to 14 hours straight in daylight in recent weeks.

The pioneering bid is being monitored by the international aeronautical federation (FIA), which oversees aviation records.

Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Sport
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
News
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Sport
Jose Mourinho on Sky Sports
footballEXCLUSIVE COLUMN Paul Scholes: It was not a leg-breaking tackle, as the Chelsea manager had claimed
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Cleaning Manager - York and Bradford

    £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The post holder is a key member of the V...

    Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Breakdown Recovery Drivers

    £18000 - £28800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Breakdown Recovery Driv...

    Recruitment Genius: Processing Partner

    £15000 - £19200 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Processing Partner is require...

    Recruitment Genius: PPC Manager - SW London

    £34000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This specialist travel agent ba...

    Day In a Page

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower