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Solar-powered plane embarks on night flight

July 7, 2010, 08:30 pm

Aviation technology took a potentially significant step forward this week as a Swiss team of researchers took a solar-powered airplane for its first nighttime test flight.

According to the Solar Impulse team's website, the plane took off Wednesday morning with CEO and co-founder Andre Borschberg in the cockpit.

The plan for this test flight was to ascend to an altitude of about 8,500 meters to allow the plane's batteries to charge for nighttime operation. After sundown, the plane was expected to cruise at an altitude of about 1,500 meters and to stay in the air until the next sunrise.

"For seven years now, the whole team has been passionately working to achieve this first decisive step of the project," said Borschberg. The night flight was initially set for last week but had to be postponed because of equipment trouble.

The test is a crucial part of the team's longer-term goal of flying the solar plane around the world in 2012 and if the current test is deemeda success, it will mark the longest-ever flight by a solar-powered aircraft.

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