Solar powered plane begins 24-hour test flight

A plane powered by the sun’s rays, has begun a test flight that will see the aircraft powered through the night by energy collected from the sun. The Swiss-built aircraft called Solar Impulse is being tested to assess whether it can fly in darkness, using solar cells on its wings to generate enough power to stay in the air for 24-hours.

The Solar Impulse team says pilot Andre Borschberg will take the prototype to an altitude of 27,900ft. He will then slowly descend through the night and aim for a dawn landing.

The project is sponsored by Bertrand Piccard, who was the first to circle the globe non-stop in a balloon.

The experimental aircraft is the weight of a family car but has a wingspan about equal to a large passenger jet such as an Airbus A340. One of the team’s ultimate principal aims is to prove that renewable energy can be used for safe, long-distance flights.

The solar powered aircraft first left the ground in December 2009 and has since performed a series of short daytime flight tests, dubbed “flea-hops”, venturing no higher than 2ft in altitude and 300m in distance.

The model aircraft will be succeeded by a second model that will be bigger and will feature a capsule that is pressurised like a passengerr aircraft cabin. The team hopes to make the first manned transatlantic solar flight in the next two years.

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Although not quite there yet, solar powered flights may well be the norm for air travel in the future but for now, we suggest you stick to more conventional methods of transport!

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* Premium £5.32 includes Insurance Premium Tax based on an adult aged under 55 taking out a “Standard” Single-trip 24/7 travel insurance policy for 3-days in Europe, excluding personal possessions cover and purchased within 14 days of departure date. Cover details and prices are correct at time of going to press (July 2010) and are subject to change.