In 2012 a solar aircraft known as HB-SIA will attempt to fly around the world on solar power alone. Today that aircraft’s prototype — commonly referred to as Solar Impulse — completed its inaugural flight in 87 minutes.

Wired reports that Solar Impulse reached heights of 4,000 feet above land, its 12,000 solar cells fueling the journey. Today’s landmark solar excursion was seven years in the making, but it’s just the first run in a series of trials that will determine the project’s ultimate success.

The solar flying machine is said to weigh 3,500 pounds during flight, possess a wingspan of 208 feet and cruise in-air at speeds between 40 and 45 mph.

After further testing, the Solar Impulse team says they hope to begin night testing later this year. “During those flights,” the report says, “the team will examine the viability of the schedule they plan to use for the around-the-world flight. The plan is to climb to higher altitudes during the day, and trade that altitude for airspeed, supplemented with battery power, to continue flying during the night. They expect to fly 36-hour shifts.”

While the ultimate goal is fairly lofty — to fly autonomously around the world via solar power — the team behind the Solar Impulse project has certainly made a commendable step today.

Check out the take-off video below. For more information, follow the team’s ambitious journey or support their cause via their Facebook Group.

[img credit: Solar Impulse on Facebook]

For more technology coverage, follow Mashable Tech on Twitter or become a fan on Facebook

Reviews: Facebook, Twitter

Tags: Airplane, solar, solar impulse