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July 08, 2010 7:11 AM

Solar-Powered Aircraft Lands After Overnight Flight

July 8 (Bloomberg) -- An experimental airplane landed safely after flying through the night propelled entirely by 12,000 solar cells and sunlight-powered lithium batteries.

The HB-SIA carbon-fiber aircraft, flown by Andre Borschberg and weighing about as much as a mid-size car, touched down today at Payerne near Lake Neuchatel, Switzerland, at 9 a.m. local time, the Solar Impulse group said on its website.

The flight was part of the project's 100 million Swiss franc ($95 million) effort sponsored by Deutsche Bank AG, Germany's biggest bank, to eventually pilot the first flight around the globe in an airplane using only solar energy. The seven-year project is led by the Swiss adventurer Bertrand Piccard and Borschberg, a 40-year flying veteran.

The flight was 'the most incredible one of my flying career, just sitting there and watching the battery charge level rise and rise thanks to the sun and then that suspense, not knowing whether we were going to manage to stay up in the air the whole night,' Borschberg, 57, said. 'I have just flown more than 26 hours without using a drop of fuel and without causing any pollution!'

The single-seat plane averaged 23 knots (26 miles per hour) making loops over Switzerland's Jura Mountains, the organizers said. The next challenge will be for Solar Impulse to cross the Atlantic, then an around-the-world flight set for 2013 using a second prototype that goes into construction this summer.

New Credibility

'Before yesterday morning, we didn't have credibility,' Piccard, known for his record-setting 1999 balloon flight around the world, said on the group's website. 'It's time to use this success to demonstrate in the political and economic world how we can use this clean technology.'

The aircraft, which left the runway yesterday at 6:51 a.m. lifted by 64-meter (210-foot) wings that about match the wingspan of an Airbus A340 airliner, rose to almost 9,000 meters before sunset, powered by lithium batteries that made up 400 kilograms (880 pounds) of the plane's 1,600-kilogram weight.

The project's other main sponsors include Swatch Group AG's Omega brand and Brussels-based Solvay SA.

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