Solar-powered aircraft completes cross-US journey

Solar Impluse lands a few hours early after a tear is spotted in its wing

A one-of-a-kind solar-powered aircraft completed a two-month journey across the United States at just after 11pm EDT Saturday evening (3am GMT Sunday) when it landed at New York's JFK Airport.

The landing came several hours earlier than planned because of a tear that developed Saturday afternoon in the delicate wing of the aircraft. The tear didn't put the craft in immediate danger, but did prompt the flight crew to curtail the flight originally scheduled to end at 2am local time on Sunday. The early landing closed a runway at JFK, causing delays to some outgoing commercial flights, and also meant pilot André Borschberg didn't get to achieve his wish to fly around the Statue of Liberty in the plane.

Solar Impulse has the wingspan of a jumbo jet but weighs about the same as a family car. Coated with solar panels, the Swiss plane flies can theoretically stay aloft indefinitely, but its 35 mile per hour cruising speed means the entire trip would take many days to complete. So, to give the pilot a break, the aircraft flew in six stages, taking off in the early morning and landing late at night.

It embarked on the seven-city trip at dawn on May 3 when it soared into the sky above Silicon Valley from Moffett Field. From there, it flew to Phoenix, Dallas, St. Louis and Washington, D.C., from where it departed early Saturday morning.

The journey provided the team with valuable data on how the aircraft performs in several types of climate, particularly those not found in Europe.

"We had all these tornadoes in Texas, Oklahoma and Missouri," said Borschberg in an interview with IDG News Service on Saturday morning. He was speaking via satellite phone from the cockpit of the aircraft as it circled above the New Jersey shoreline to the south of New York.

"It was not easy to find a way through this difficult weather. I think we learned a lot on how to operate in a windy environment as well. That was part of the goal of this flight across America," he said.

(See the entire interview on YouTube.)

Borschberg said the Solar Impulse team also learned something when the plane was left outside overnight in Cincinnati, rather than being kept inside the protective inflatable hangar that has followed it across the U.S.

"It was very foggy the following morning, we had quite a lot of condensation water everywhere. It really showed us a couple of weaknesses we had that will be modified in the next airplane," he said.

Preparations for that next airplane are already underway and it faces a much greater challenge: to fly around the globe powered by nothing but the Sun.

The team hopes to attempt that flight sometime in 2015.

The round-the-world aircraft is already being designed and one of the biggest changes will be to the facilities offered for the pilot.

"Our challenge now, having a sustainable airplane, is to develop a sustainable pilot," said Borschberg. "We're constructing a second airplane in Switzerland, which will be completely different from this perspective. Different cockpit, different instruments, different support for the pilot enabling him to fly many days and many nights. So that's a very important step. That's the first airplane that has an almost unlimited endurance."

Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags popular scienceSolar Impulse

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Martyn Williams

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Kurt Hegetschweiler

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

It’s perfect for mobile workers. Just take it out — it’s small enough to sit anywhere — turn it on, load a sheet of paper, and start printing.

Matthew Stivala

HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer

The HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer is a great device that fits perfectly into my fast paced and mobile lifestyle. My first impression of the printer itself was how incredibly compact and sleek the device was.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?