Confidence soared among the crew of an experimental solar-powered aircraft on Wednesday as it cruised above Switzerland in a historic bid to fly around the clock and prove the value of solar energy. More than five hours into the ambitious 25 hour flight, the crew’s chief weather forecaster said the threat of strong high altitude winds and late thunderstorms above the Swiss Alps was receding.
And team chief Bertrand Piccard reported that the pilot had to switch off solar collectors charging the onboard batteries for overnight power because they were working too well.
“Until now, let’s cross our fingers, everything is going extremely well. Over the mountains we have… no clouds, the sky is completely clear,” added Piccard, who made the first non-stop round-the-world flight in a balloon in 1999.
Solar Impulse whirred along the runway at Payerne in western Switzerland shortly after daybreak, reaching 35 kilometres per hour (22 mph) as lone pilot Andre Borschberg gently took off into clear summer skies at 6:51 am (0451 GMT).
“Conditions are really beautiful up here, I feel great,” Borschberg told AFP by radio a few hours later, as he cruised over the Jura hills in northern Switzerland.
“I’ve been dreaming about this for seven years since we started the project, everybody on the team was looking forward to this very special day and I can tell you I’m really enjoying it,” he added.