Solar plane completes test flight

Solar Impulse HB-SIA, an emissions-free aircraft that draws its power from solar energy, has made its first test flight, climbing 1,200m after take-off from Payerne airfield, Switzerland.

During the 87-minute flight Solar Impulse test pilot Markus Scherdel familiarised himself with the prototype’s flight behaviour and performed the initial flight exercises before landing.

Scherdel said: ‘The HB-SIA behaved just as the flight simulator told us. Despite its immense size and feather weight, the aircraft’s controllability matches our expectations. This first mission was the most risky phase of the entire project. Never has an airplane as large and light ever flown before.’

Bertrand Piccard, chairman at Solar Impulse, added: ‘We still have a long way to go until the night flights and an even longer way before flying round the world.

‘Our future depends on our ability to convert rapidly to the use of renewable energies. Solar Impulse is intended to demonstrate what can be done already today by using these energies and applying new technologies that can save natural resources.’

Designed to fly night and day, the aircraft – described in detail here – is 21.85m long and combines a lightweight 1,600kg structure with a 63.4m wingspan. Its wings are covered in a thin sheet of solar cells that convert the sun’s rays into electricity that drives the machine’s engines.

The flight represents the latest achievement in the long, chequered, but highly innovative history of solar powered flight. Read more about this exciting field here.