Update 13:05 Lausanne, Switzerland (GenevaLunch) – The weather was beautiful, the mood upbeat – and the plane flew, just as everyone was hoping it would. Solar Impulse, the first plane designed to fly night and day without fossil fuels, slowly climbed 1,200 metres into the air Wednesday 7 April at 10:27 and flew for the next 87 minutes before pilot Markus Scherdel landed it again in Payerne.
“This first flight was for me a very intense moment!” Scherdel told the crowd that had gathered, as he got down from the aircraft.
Scherdel spent the hour and a half familiarizing himself with the prototype’s flight behaviour and performing initial flight exercises. “The execution of these various maneuvers (turns, simulating the approach phase) was designed to get a feel for the aircraft and verify its controllability,” the Solar Impulse team noted in a press release. “Despite its immense size and feather weight, the aircraft’s controllability matches our expectations,” an excited Scherdel said.
André Borschberg, CEO and co-founder of the project, with Bertrand Piccard, was clearly delighted. “This first mission was the most risky phase of the entire project. One hour and 27 minutes of intense emotion after seven years of research, testing and perseverance. Never has an airplane as large and light flown before!” Borschberg says that the success of this first flight “allows us to envisage the further programme with greater serenity.”
Piccard, who is chairman of the project, says the team still has a long way to go before making night flights or flying around the world, but “an essential step towards achieving our vision has been taken.”
Much of the solar cells research that went into the plane was done at EPFL in Lausanne.