tech solar_impulse aviation solar alternative_energy batteries aircraft transportation
Solar-Powered Plane to Begin Cross-Country Voyage in May

by Michael Keller

Solar Impulse, the pioneering Swiss team aiming to circumnavigate the world in a solar-powered airplane, announced on March 28 the next stage of their mission: to fly from California to New York without using a single drop of fuel.

Piccard and partner Andre Borschberg made their announcement at Moffett Air Field in Mountain View, Calif., where they intend to begin their voyage in May.

“The first trip from San Francisco to New York City is a major step in terms of operations and technology, but also in inspiring people,” Bertrand Piccard, an aeronaut and psychiatrist who initiated the project, said late last year.

From California, they will fly the plane in five legs. Their first stop will be at Phoenix’s Sky Harbor International Airport; next, they will fly to Dallas/Ft. Worth International; then it’s either Atlanta, Nashville or St. Louis; Washington Dulles International; and finally completing their trip in early July at New York City’s JFK International. They will stay at each stop for a week or longer to interact with area students.

(The itinerary for Solar Impulse’s crossing of America, which begins in May. The destination of the third leg is still to be determined. Courtesy Solar Impulse.)

Each leg is expected to take 24 hours of flight in the vehicle, which has the wingspan of a Boeing 747 and the weight of a Jeep Grand Cherokee. It is powered by four 10-horsepower electric motors that draw energy from efficient photovoltaic cells that cover the wings and stabilizers. The Solar Impulse aircraft will reach a cruising speed of 44 mph and a maximum altitude of 27,900 feet.

The group has already flown their aircraft, called the HB-S1A, on a 26-hour day-and-night flight that proved their solar power and battery storage technology could operate even after the sun went down. Aviation experts had said such a mission was impossible. But that didn’t stop the two aviators who, with a team of experts in several fields, made advances in aircraft construction, battery insulation and other technologies they needed to improve to keep their aircraft flying.

“So much of the time in life we spend learning certitudes,” Piccard said during a press conference announcing their plans to cross America. “As soon as you learn to love the doubts, the question marks, life becomes an adventure.”

Borschberg is happy the airplane—a flying laboratory for clean technologies and advanced materials—has already started generating buzz in the United States. “We are extremely excited to do this mission, especially in the footsteps of all these pioneers in this country who have made aviation what it is today,” he said.

They say this coast-to-coast challenge will be the last major test before their 2015 mission to go around the world without using fuel.

Top Image: The Solar Impulse HB-S1A solar-powered aircraft in flight. Courtesy Solar Impulse.

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