This Solar-Powered Plane Just Set A New Flight Record

Illustration for article titled This Solar-Powered Plane Just Set A New Flight Record

After 76 hours of solar-powered flight, pilot Andre Borschberg has set a new record for the longest non-stop solo trip without having to refuel.


Solar Impulse departed from Nagoya, Japan on Monday, travelling some 3,420 miles (5,500 km) over the course of three days. The plane has now passed Midway Island and is heading towards the destination of Kalaeloa, Hawaii.

The previous record for non-stop flight without refueling belonged to American pilot Steve Fossett, who in 2006 flew his jet-powered Virgin GlobalFlyer vehicle around the world, traveling nearly 26,000 miles (41,000 km).


The new milestone was set 76 hours into the latest leg of Solar Impulse’s journey across the globe.

Unlike Fossett’s plane, Solar Impulse has no fuel. Its wings are covered with 17,000 photovoltaic cells that power the vehicle’s electric motors and charge its lithium-ion batteries to sustain flight during the night hours.


Image: Solar Impulse


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Although aerodynamically and structurally gorgeous, what is the purpose of this craft? Is it a technology demonstrator and record setter? It's averaged air speed is about 45 mph so far, perhaps a solar powered zeppelin may have more practical applications?