Solar plane completes first international flight

The Solar Impulse completes a 13-hour flight from its home base in Switzerland to Brussels, without the need for fuel and without producing any pollution.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
2 min read
Ground crew rolls the Solar Impulse into its hangar in Brussels after the successful flight. The vast array of solar cells is visible on the wings. SolarImpulse.TV broadcast; screenshot by Edward Moyer/CNET

After soaring into the skies early this morning, the solar-powered Solar Impulse plane has completed its first international flight, traveling from its home of Switzerland to Brussels in about 13 hours--without the need for fuel and without producing any pollution.

Flown by pilot Andre Borschberg, the plane took off from its home base at Payerne Airfield at 8:40 a.m., a bit later than planned due to foggy weather conditions. Climbing to an altitude of more than 3,800 meters (approximately 12,467 feet, or 2.36 miles), the plane headed toward France and Luxembourg, and landed in Brussels airport at 9:38 p.m. The plane was originally due to land at 9 p.m., but the early-morning delay extended the arrival time.

The Solar Impulse in flight last year over Switzerland.
The Solar Impulse takes flight last year over Switzerland. Solar Impulse/Revillard

The first international flight was expected to be especially challenging. Not only does the Solar Impulse rely on the power of the sun to keep it aloft during the day, but the plane was also set to navigate through standard commercial air traffic and possible turbulence as it soared over the different countries.

An ongoing live video feed was available at the Solar Impulse Web Site or by downloading the Solar Impulse mobile app, available at Apple's App Store and Google's Android Market. The Web site and mobile app enabled viewers to watch and listen to communications between Borschberg and the ground crew, monitor the plane's altitude and speed, and even send text messages and questions to Borschberg. After the landing, the live video feed provided coverage of the plane's reception in Brussels. People could also follow updates on the flight via the Solar Impulse Twitter feed.

Solar Impulse

Since taking off in late 2009 for its first test flight, the Solar Impulse HB-SIA has successfully accomplished a series of longer and more challenging flights, completing its first 24-hour day-and-night flight in July.

The HB-SIA, which is actually a prototype model, is designed to fly both day and night without fuel and without creating pollution. The plane's wingspan measures more than 200 feet, which boosts its aerodynamic efficiency. That long wingspan also houses the more than 12,000 solar panels that soak up the sunlight required to power the Solar Impulse during the day and charge its lithium polymer batteries to keep it aloft at night.

Next on the itinerary will be a cross-Atlantic trip later this year, followed by an around-the-world trip in 2013 using the latest prototype, dubbed the Solar Impulse HB-SIB.

Updated at 2:42 p.m. PT with news of the landing.