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Solar plane completes night flight

A giant aircraft, powered only by solar energy, has successfully completed the longest and highest flight in the history of solar aviation.

The carbon-fiber Solar Impulse HB-SIA flew 26 hours and 9 minutes with a maximum speed of 68 knots, an average speed of 23 knots and a maximum altitude of 8,564 meters above sea level

With a wingspan similar to an Airbus A340, the glider-like aircraft has 12,000 solar cells built into its 64.3-meter wings.

“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,” pilot Andre Borschberg told Reuters television.

Organizers say the project proves the potential of renewable energies and clean technology and hope the plane will make its first circumnavigation of the globe in 2012.

“We are on the verge of the perpetual flight,” said the Swiss president of the project Bertrand Piccard, who is best-known for completing the first round-the-world flight in a hot air balloon in 1999.

Solar Impulse HB-SIA weighs 1,600 kg and is powered by four electric motors which save energy from its solar cells during the day.

Organizers are planning to build another similar aircraft which can cross the Atlantic.

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