Solar Impulse Milestone

 

GENEVA — An experimental solar-powered plane whose Swiss makers hope someday to fly around the globe soared into uncharted territory Wednesday — the cold, dark night.

The team of adventurers and engineers behind the Solar Impulse project are already celebrating an aviation milestone for the longest solar flight after keeping the single-seat prototype aloft for almost 15 hours.

But with the goal of 24 hours of nonstop flight, the team set its sights on keeping the sleek aircraft with a 207-foot wingspan in the air until Thursday morning.

Pilot Andre Borschberg “will stay up there as long as possible,” said Bertrand Piccard, the project’s co-founder. “Hopefully he will still be in the air at sunrise tomorrow. That is the challenge.”

Borschberg took off from Payerne airfield into the clear blue sky shortly before 7 a.m. Wednesday, allowing the plane to soak up plenty of sunshine and fly in gentle loops over the Jura mountains, west of the Swiss Alps.

As the sun set, technicians hoped the craft’s batteries — charged from the 12,000 solar cells fixed to the wings and body — would keep the four-engine plane airborne through the night.

Earlier in the afternoon, Piccard — a record-breaking balloonist whose father and grandfather also accomplished pioneering airborne and submarine feats — said the flight was going “extremely well.”

At 9:30 p.m., he said strong winds had pushed the plane off course, cutting his safety margin by one hour.

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