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A photo of Solar Impulse flying over Switzerland. Solar Impulse's solar panels charge for the plane's first night flight. (Denis Balibouse / Keystone / AP Images)

Success! Sun's Rays Fuel Flight

Sun-powered engines keep plane flying for 26 hours

By Zach Jones | null null , null
Pilot Andre Borschberg is greeted with excitement after completing the plane's first overnight flight. (Dominic Favre / Keyston / AP Images)<br />
Pilot Andre Borschberg is greeted with excitement after completing the plane's first overnight flight. (Dominic Favre / Keyston / AP Images)

Airplanes are often called "gas guzzlers" because of how much gasoline they use to power a single flight. But now a new plane created in Switzerland is fueled solely by sunlight.

Solar Impulse is a tiny plane with huge wings. The wings have to be big enough to hold 12,000 solar panels. These panels turn sunlight into energy that powers the plane.

Last week, Impulse's designers put their plane to the test with its first overnight flight. They wanted to prove that the plane could fly all day and still have enough energy collected from daylight to fly all night too.

FIRST FLIGHT

On July 8, pilot André Borschberg successfully flew the plane overnight. He stayed in the air for more than 26 hours without using fuel or creating pollution!

"I've been a pilot for 40 years now, but this flight has been the most incredible one of my flying career," Borschberg told reporters after he landed the plane.

Pilots are used to seeing fuel levels decrease throughout a flight. Borschberg says he was amazed to watch the plane's battery power continue to increase the longer he flew the plane.

What's next for these eco-friendly inventors? The airplane's designers are working on an even more fuel-efficient plane. Their goal is to fly all the way around the world using only solar energy by 2013.

SOLAR SCIENCE

Inventors have used sunshine to fuel small vehicles like cars before. But this is the first time an entirely solar-powered airplane has been invented.

Converting gasoline into fuel to power cars and airplanes creates a gas called carbon dioxide. Air travel is one of the biggest contributors to the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Scientists say producing too much of this gas can cause trouble for Earth by unnaturally raising temperatures across the planet.

Solar Impulse is too small to carry passengers or replace today's commercial flights. The thousands of solar panels on the plane power only four small engines. But it's a big success for environmental inventors who want to try to find ways for humans to use less gas and instead rely on more renewable energy sources like the sun to help keep the planet clean.

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