A solar plane took off Friday on the first leg of a historic flight — a 19-hour trip from Moffett Field near San Francisco, CA to Phoenix Sky Harbor’s International Airport.
The experimental Solar Impulse sure won’t break any speed records. Its average cruising speed is about 43 miles an hour so, yeah, you can drive there faster.
What’s amazing about the trip is that the 3,500 pound ultra-light carbon-fiber frame craft uses no added fuel. Instead, the plane relies completely on energy from the sun collected in some 12,000 photovoltaic cells on top of the lengthy wings.
You notice how I can’t even fit the whole wing of the solar plane in the photo? That’s because they’re about as long as a commercial 747 jetliner’s wings.
There is room for only one person, and today’s flight is being piloted by solar innovator 55-year-old Bernard Piccard.
In 1999, Piccard and co-pilot Brian Jones made history by becoming the first people to fly around the world nonstop in a hot-air balloon. Piccard has since stated that he was impressed that the journey used more than 8,100 pounds of propane.
He was inspired to find a greener way to create world records.
Although Solar Impulse should arrive in Phoenix tomorrow, the plan is to ultimately cross the entire continent and arrive at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. The entire journey could take as much as two months, since the crew will wait for favorable weather at each stop along the way.
The plane will hop from Phoenix to Dallas, Dallas to St. Louis, and St. Louis to Washington before making the final journey to New York.
Piccard will alternate piloting duties with the co-founder of Solar Impulse, André Borschberg. Watch a test flight here:
You can enjoy live streaming of the flight at the Solar Impulse website.
And, of course, the solar-powered saga won’t end after they reach New York. Borschberg and Piccard plan to eventually circle the entire globe by solar plane.
[solar impulse plane photo by Matth1 via Wikipedia Commons]