On July 6, Solar Impulse , the solar-powered airplane, landed safely at the John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City, thus completing its coast-to-coast journey across the continental United States. On May 3, the Impulse took off from Mountain View, California, with Bertrand Piccard piloting. During this leg of the journey, Piccard flew to Phoenix, Arizona. During later jaunts, the Impulse flew to Texas, Missouri, and Virginia, with André Borschberg taking over piloting duties at some point. Each trip took 19 to 25 hours to complete, with weeks-long rests in between.
Borschberg’s landing was actually ahead of schedule. The Impulse was originally supposed to land at JFK Airport on Sunday, but one of the wings developed a tear eight feet long on its underside. After helicopters took pictures of the tear, it was decided that the tear was stable, and an earlier landing time was arranged.
“It was a huge success for renewable energy,” Borschberg said, after landing. “The only thing that failed was a piece of fabric.”
The Solar Impulse HB-SIA is a single-seat electric airplane powered completely by solar energy. There are over 11,000 solar cells on the wings, which provide power and charge the batteries that take over for night flying. The Impulse has a wingspan of 208 feet, but weighs about as much as a small car. It can reach an altitude of 30,000 feet, but has a top speed of only 45 mph.
Bertrand Piccard had started the Solar Impulse Project in 2003. By 2009, he had assembled a team of 50 specialists from six countries, plus 100 advisers. Piccard began his project with a feasibility study at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland in 2003. Construction of the Solar Impulse began in 2006 and was completed in 2009. Its maiden flight took place on December 3, 2009, when it flew 1, 150 feet.
Piccard and his team continued testing the Solar Impulse’s capabilities. On May 28, 2010, the Impulse made its first flight that was wholly powered by solar energy. On July 8, 2010, the Solar Impulse made its first overnight flight, during which it achieved a maximum altitude of 28,500 feet. On May 13, 2011, the Impulse made its first international flight, when Borschberg piloted the plane from Switzerland to Belgium. On June 5, 2012, the Impulse made its first intercontinental flight, flying from Madrid, Spain to Rabat, Morocco in 19 hours.
Construction of a second plane, with the Swiss registration of HB-SIB, began in 2011. It will have longer wings and a pressurized cockpit with advanced avionics to permit transcontinental and transoceanic flights. It will also have supplemental oxygen and environmental support systems to enable the pilot to cruise at 39,000 feet. It is expected to circumnavigate the globe in 2015.