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Solar plane scores another high, flies in night sky

A file photo of the solar plane.

PAYERNE, SWITZERLAND (AFP): A solar powered aircraft emerged from a night flight high over Switzerland on Thursday, on course to making history as the first plane to fly around the clock on solar energy.

More than 24 hours after it took off, Solar Impulse was still flying in spectacular early morning clear skies in northwestwern Switzerland after dawn.

Pilot Andre Borschberg was set to land at Payerne at about 8:30 am (local time), after being confined to the cockpit of the single seater experimental aircraft for about 26 hours, team chief Bertrand Piccard said.

Applause and cheers broke out at mission control as the sun rose over Payerne airbase at 5:43 am (local time) with Solar Impulse still in the air.

“It's the first time ever that a solar airplane has flown through the night,” said Piccard, who himself headed the first round the world balloon flight in 1999.

“That was the moment that proved the mission was successful, we made it,” he told journalists.

Flight director Claude Nicollier said that the flight had gone well overnight as Borschberg guided the experimental aircraft towards a landing after dawn.

“It went better than that,” Nicollier said.

The plane's flight during the overnight hours of darkness was powered by the charge its batteries had stored during the 14 hours of daytime flight thanks to its array of 12,000 solar cells on wings the size of an airliner's.

“It's a super flight, better than nominal,” added Nicollier, a former space shuttle astronaut.

Nicollier said 57-year-old Borschberg was “very positive” after more than 22 hours in the air in the single seater, having been forced to stay alert for the full period.

“He is in very good spirits physically and mentally,” said Nicollier.

Borschberg's impassive expression broke into a broad smile as the crew announced that dawn had officially broken at Payerne, live images from a cockpit webcam showed.

The high-tech single-seater aircraft took off on the historic attempt in the early hours of on Wednesday.


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