Aircraft

Solar-powered airplane completes trans-America flight

Solar-powered airplane complet...
André Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard celebrate the completion of the Solar Impulse's Mission Across America at New York's JFK International Airport
André Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard celebrate the completion of the Solar Impulse's Mission Across America at New York's JFK International Airport
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André Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard celebrate the completion of the Solar Impulse's Mission Across America at New York's JFK International Airport
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André Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard celebrate the completion of the Solar Impulse's Mission Across America at New York's JFK International Airport
Photograph of the underside of the left wing, showing the region where the fabric rip occurred during the Cincinnati-Washington leg of the Solar Impulse's cross-country flight (Photo: Solar Impulse)
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Photograph of the underside of the left wing, showing the region where the fabric rip occurred during the Cincinnati-Washington leg of the Solar Impulse's cross-country flight (Photo: Solar Impulse)
Touchdown at New York's JFK International Airport (Photo: Solar Impulse)
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Touchdown at New York's JFK International Airport (Photo: Solar Impulse)
A view from beneath the Solar Impulse on its final flight leg, showing the damage to the left wing's fabric covering (Photo: Solar Eclipse)
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A view from beneath the Solar Impulse on its final flight leg, showing the damage to the left wing's fabric covering (Photo: Solar Eclipse)
The Solar Impulse taking off from Washington D.C. (Photo: Solar Eclipse)
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The Solar Impulse taking off from Washington D.C. (Photo: Solar Eclipse)
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Solar Impulse – the solar-powered airplane of Swiss pioneers Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg – has successfully landed at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport. In so doing, it begins a new era in the history of aviation: for the first time, a plane capable of flying day and night powered exclusively by solar energy has crossed the USA from the west to the east coasts, without using a single drop of fuel.

Solar Impulse's Mission Across America began in San Francisco on May 3, and made stops in Phoenix, Dallas-Fort Worth, St. Louis (where the plane's inflatable hangar was used for the firs time), Cincinnati and Washington D.C. The 3,511-mile (5,530-km) trip took a total of 105 hours and 41 minutes in the air, for an average speed of 33.14 mph (53.34 km/h).

The flight ended at New York City's John F. Kennedy International Airport on July 6 at 11:09 pm local time. The pilot for this final leg of the voyage was Borschberg, who had alternated with Piccard throughout the journey.

Touchdown at New York's JFK International Airport (Photo: Solar Impulse)
Touchdown at New York's JFK International Airport (Photo: Solar Impulse)

While Solar Impulse succeeded in finishing the cross-country flight, during the flight from Washington D.C. to New York its left wing suffered an 8-foot (2.5-m) rip in the wing fabric on the lower wing surface. Inspection by helicopter while in flight led to the conclusion that the rip was stable, and would not prevent the mission from proceeding.

After catching their collective breaths, the next set of tasks for the Solar Impulse team is to build and test the next-generation of the solar-powered aircraft. The HB-SIB will be larger and heavier, comprising a pressurized cockpit to allow cruising at altitudes up to 39,000 feet (12 km). Advanced avionics will allow the HB-SIB to safely navigate the airways on transcontinental and transoceanic flights. HB-SIB test flights are likely to begin in 2014.

Source: Solar Impulse

15 comments
S Michael
33mph... and this proves what....? I suppose this could be considered a first step. My question is a "first" step to what? Carried two people and took how many hours. Come on. China, Russia and Europe are pulling ahead of us in technology and innovation. Shows how this feat will lead to any... any advances within the next few years.
Gerald Grey
So, you would have preferred more people completing the journey in less time? Any suggestions how they could accomplish this for the next attempt?
Tony Morris
When the Wright brothers first flew, the majority of people expressed opinions like yours, S Michael. These days most of us know better.
Dylan Kemp
Would you have said that about Wright bros first flight? It prove you can cross a large distance without relying on fossil fuel. A major step in the right direction. I'm surprised that had to be said
Slowburn
It is their money and I certainly don't have a problem with them spending it on what they want but what are they trying to achieve? They built and flew an uncomfortable, fragile, and really really s l o w plane very far. They made headlines and got their pictures in the 'papers'. They even demonstrated that solar is not quite as limited as it use to be. But if they want to effect anything but 'toy' planes they would be better off building a sunlight, water, and air to liquid fuel pilot plant.
Graham
Like Slowburn, I would not diminish at all this magnificent achievement. As well as the technology, it has elements of human challenge, like the round-the world-yachtsmen .. but he has a point. It is still, after all, all about the hydrogen, mostly locked up in carbon for us to burn, and is what powered the lathes and chemical plants and computers, and heating and all the stuff that helped build that aircraft. Our solar collectors do not yet approach what plant leaves can do with the energy. We might be forced into using less, but we will always be trying to find ways too get at more. Maybe a future nuclear plant (fusion or otherwise) might be set to tearing back hydrogen from the water, and selling it back to us as a liquid fuel. I don't imagine any would be set to grabbing back any CO2! Still, these guys are great! Electric airliners might come, but not likely solar powered, even if the collecting area rivaled its own airport apron! You have got to admire the innovation that let them take off at all, let alone cross America, even at 30mph!
emcoyote
I am truly surprised that on a website devoted to showing tehnological innovations and possibilities that this has to be stated, but apparently it does. Every major innovation took time and vision to develop. None of them sprang fully formed ready for commercial / private use. Every technology we use today started out slow, clumsy, inefficient and bulky. Most took more time and resources than their predecessors and were often written off by the public who were not able to see the possibilities they represented. The automobile, airplane, microwave, telephone, computer, radio, lightbulb, and a host of others looked nothing like their current incarnations do. They were often so BIG, slow, and bad at doing the job they were designed for that most people looked at them as niche items at best and mostly as utter wastes of time. It took years, and in the case of the human body millions of years, to develop whatever is currently being used. So why wouldn't something new take years to develop as well? Often half the battle is proving something can be done in the first place. It builds momentum and pushes people to try harder, to go the next step. Someone fly? preposterous! Someone fly across the Atlantic? ridiculous! Someone orbit the earth, unheard of! Visit the moon? impossible! How on earth can we create anything new if we don't have the capacity to see its POTENTIAL and if it must be commercially viable from the moment of inception? Obviously this is not a commercially viable plane yet. But I don't see many people commuting to work on a horse and buggy anymore so maybe if we cut the designers a little slack and give them some time they just might innovate air travel, something that in itself was laughed at when it took its first baby steps.
Carmelmike
And please don't forget that this a new record, NOT the first solar-powered flight across the US.
billybob1851
i like it! my favorite comparison is always what the common folk called "fulton's folly".
vblancer
Why does everything have to PROVE something or even be practical? When Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager flew the Voyager around the world unrefueled and non stop there was very little practical knowledge gain by Burt Rutan's aircraft but it was a huge adventure!! I am a private pilot and I would have loved being one of these two guys just to be part of a pretty amazing adventure! There are so many no-sayers and complainers here. Everything get ripped apart. Can't you look past the "We have to save the world with this airplane or it is crap" outlook and just enjoy the joy of their accomplishment and a pretty amazing adventure? Just one look at this plane tells me they had no easy task and there must have been times that were very scary and it had to have been getting bounced all over the sky by each thermal it hit. They probably had a very rough ride if they flew during the day. I think there was a certain amount of bravery involved. Despite this people that have flown nothing more than their keyboards have to tear apart their accomplishment. That is sad guys, really sad.