Solar Impulse, whose wingspan is the same as an Airbus A340, flew 26 hours and 9 minutes, powered only by solar energy stored during the day. It was also the longest and highest flight in the history of solar aviation, organisers said.
Bertrand Piccard, the Swiss president of the project, best known for completing the first round-the-world flight in a hot air balloon in 1999, said the success of the flight showed the potential of renewable energies and clean technology.
“We are on the verge of the perpetual flight,” he said.
Jubilant pilot Andre Borschberg said: “It was unbelievable, success better than we expected. We almost thought to make it longer, but... we demonstrated what we wanted to demonstrate so they made me come back, so here I am.”
Borschberg, a former Swiss air force pilot who has flown for 40 years, returned to a hero’s welcome at Payerne air base, in the northwestern canton of Vaud, where hundreds gathered to watch the aircraft glide onto the Tarmac at 0700 GMT.
The carbon-fibre aircraft reached a maximum speed of 68 knots (ground speed), an average speed of 23 knots and a maximum altitude of 8,564 metres above sea level, a statement said. “The success of this first night flight by a solar-powered plane is crucial for the further course of the Solar Impulse project,” it said.
The Solar Impulse HB-SIA, which has 12,000 solar cells built into its 64.3-metre wings, is a prototype for an aircraft that its creators hope will carry out its first circumnavigation of the globe from 2012.