Solar energy fuels experimental airplane all day, and all night

Solar energy plane stays aloft for 26 hours – and could, in theory, fly forever.

Solar energy carried this plane for 26 hours.

A spindly, experimental plane completed a 26-hour flight Thursday, running on only solar energy. The aircraft's light-weight design still makes room for plenty of solar cells along its wide wingspan. These sunbathing power plates soak up enough energy during the day to keep the Solar Impulse buzzing throughout the night.

To better understand the Solar Impulse, here's a breakdown of the airplane by the numbers:

26 hours, 9 minutes read the final counter as the plane landed Thursday morning. The Solar Impulse circled 28,000 feet above Payerne airfield, outside Bern, Switzerland.

12,000 solar cells lined the aircraft's 207-foot wingspan. Cruising at 75 miles per hour, the mechanism actually collected more energy than it used during the full-day flight – and 20 percent more than expected. This means the plane could, theoretically, fly forever.

Zero autopilot features exist aboard the Solar Impulse. The pilot, Andre Borschberg, used yoga and water spritzes to keep himself awake in the cramped car-seat-sized cockpit.

2013 marks the (scheduled) year when a new solar prototype will attempt a flight around the world.


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