Solar plane's first test flight a success, but can it fly at night?

A solar-powered plane with a 200-foot wingspan completed its first test flight this morning, soaring to 5,500 feet in an 87-minute sortie that reached a top speed of 44 mph. Solar Impulse proved itself airworthy, taking off and landing under its own power, taking a series of turns, and performing well. According to pilot Marcus Scherdel, "Despite its immense size and feather weight, the aircraft's controllability matches our expectations."

The solar plane with a wingspan the size of a Boeing 747 is a few months behind schedule — this first test flight was originally planned for 2009. The next step in the testing process leading up to the plane's around-the-world trip in 2012 is a 36-hour test flight to determine if the plane can fly both during the day and at night. Will there be enough battery power to keep its 40hp engine running until morning?

Google News, via Inhabitat