Solar Impulse, a dragonfly-like solar-powered experimental aircraft, finally completed its emotional cross-country journey by landing in New York on Saturday night. You can watch the plane come in at John F. Kennedy International Airport in the YouTube video by from Jason Rabinowitz that I’ve posted up top.
Solar Impulse started out on the first leg of its historic trip on May 3, with a 19 hour flight from Moffett Field near San Francisco, California to Phoenix Sky Harbor’s International Airport in Arizona. It didn’t get there all that fast. But the amazing thing about the 3,500 pound ultra-light carbon-fiber frame craft is that it used no added fuel.
The solar-powered aircraft relied completely on energy from the sun collected in some 12,000 photovoltaic cells on top of the lengthy wings to make the trip at an average speed of little more than 40 miles an hour.
The light-bodied craft can only hold one person at a time. Two pilots took turns flying the Solar Impulse across the country, with Bertrand Piccard at the wheel on the first leg out of California and Andre Borschberg in the chair for the final approach into New York.
Althought it’s an experimental aircraft, the “Across America” journey had been remarkably trouble-free — until the very last hours. An NBC report said that Borschberg noticed a balance issue with the wings. Photographs taken from a helicopter revealed a minor tear.
As a result, Borschberg skipped a Statue of Liberty visit and contacted traffic controllers so that he could land three hours earlier than the original Solar Impulse flight plan.
The final flight from Washington to JFK took 18 hours 23 minutes for an arrival time shortly after 11 PM on Friday night. It reached an altitude of 10,200 feet. Its average ground speed was less than 17 miles per hour, so even your pet turtle can outrun that airplane. Again, this craft doesn’t impress because of its speed, but because it’s the first serious evidence that an airplane can be developed that uses only solar-powered energy.
The team will be meeting the public on the weekend of July 13-14 at JFK airport. You can visit their website if you’ll be in the area to find out how to register for the Solar Impulse event.
[solar impulse plane photo by Matth1 via Wikipedia Commons]