Solar plane lands after 26-hour flight
The Solar Impulse and its pilot, André Borschberg, were greeted by a roar of cheering, clapping and whistles as they touched down on a runway in Payerne, Switzerland, at 9 a.m. local time (3 a.m. ET).
Borschberg, 57, appeared jubilant as he emerged from the bathtub-sized cockpit of the single-seat plane after a sleepless day-and-night flight.
He added that the flight proves it's possible for a plane to fly both day and night on solar power alone, without the use of fossil fuels.
Project founder Bertrand Piccard hailed the achievement but said it was no time to relax.
"If we want to create jobs in the future," he said, "we need to implement all these new technologies that allow us to get rid of our dependence to fossil energy."
He added that he is confident the flight's success will help the $95 million privately funded project secure the remaining $19 million it needs.
Round the world in 2013
The Solar Impulse team's next goal is to prove it's possible to keep a solar plane in perpetual motion. They will build a more advanced model that they hope to fly around the world in 2013.
The plane, which has a narrow fuselage and a wingspan of 63 metres — comparable to that of a Boeing 777 passenger jet — spent the day looping around the skies northeast of Payerne, collecting the sun's energy through its 12,000 solar cells and storing them in its batteries as it climbed to 8,500 metres, close to the height of Mount Everest.
Lucas Chambers, the project's self-described blogger-in-chief, reported that the -20 C temperatures in the cockpit at that altitude made Borshberg's drinking water freeze up and his iPod batteries die.
As the sun set in his 15th hour of flight, Borschberg was asked by the mission control team to shut down all solar power generators, Chambers wrote.
The plane spent the next few hours gliding in a slow descent with neither solar nor battery power before levelling out and switching to battery power at around 1,370 metres.
By 6 a.m., the sun had risen again, Chambers said.
"Bertrand Piccard is now in the control room, congratulating André Borschberg, who keeps repeating, 'It’s only the beginning,'" he wrote.
Borschberg said he did yoga exercises in the cockpit to stimulate the blood circulation and used breathing exercises and a water spray to stay awake.
He had to wear an oxygen mask for a large part the flight, along with a parachute for the entire journey. Despite that and having to face some low-level turbulence and thermal winds, he reported feeling great during most of the flight, except for a slight soreness in his back and some discomfort from the extreme cold at high altitude.
With files from the Associated Press