by Brian Merchant, Brooklyn, New York
A solar-powered airplane piloted in Switzerland has just made a landmark achievement: It flew for well over 24 hours straight, continuing on its journey well after the sun went down. The story is making headline news all around the world, and for good reason -- it's a powerful example of the vast potential held by renewable energy.
Here's an excerpt from the New York Times' front page story about the flight:
Slender as a stick insect, a solar-powered experimental airplane with a huge wing span completed its first test flight of more than 24 hours on Thursday, powered overnight by energy collected from the sun during a day aloft over Switzerland.
The organizers said the flight was the longest and highest by a solar-powered craft, reaching an altitude of 8,564 meters, just over 28,000 feet, above sea level, at an average speed of 23 knots, around 25 miles per hour.
The craft, called the Solar Impulse, boasts 12,000 solar cells, and does indeed have a massive wingspan: It's 210 feet from tip to tip. One of the primary aims of the project was to prove that the plane can feasibly stay in the air indefinitely -- charging the batteries during the daytime, and using stored energy for travel at night. They hope to one day fly around the world in a solar plane. And indeed, the successful test flight goes a good ways towards meeting that goal... read more story at TreeHugger.com