Solar-powered plane wraps first leg of flight across United States

Sun May 5, 2013 5:04am EDT

1 of 8. Swiss pioneers Andre Borschberg (L) and Bertrand Piccard celebrate completing the first leg of the Solar Impulse flight across the United States after arriving in Phoenix May 4, 2013. The trip is an attempt to fly across the United States with no fuel but the sun's energy. Fred Merz/Solar Impulse/Handout via

Credit: Reuters

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(Reuters) - The flight from San Fransisco to Phoenix took 18 hours and 18 minutes on Saturday - and didn't use a drop of fuel.

A solar-powered airplane that developers hope eventually to pilot around the world landed safely in Phoenix on the first leg of an attempt to fly across the United States using only the sun's energy, project organizers said.

The plane, dubbed the Solar Impulse, took 18 hours and 18 minutes to reach Phoenix on the slow-speed flight, completing the first of five legs with planned stops in Dallas, St. Louis and Washington on the way to a final stop in New York.

The spindly-looking plane barely hummed as it took off Friday morning from Moffett Field, a joint civil-military airport near San Francisco.

It landed in predawn darkness at Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix, according to a statement on the Solar Impulse's website.

The flight crew plans pauses at each stop to wait for favorable weather. It hopes to reach John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York in about two months.

Swiss pilots and co-founders of the project, Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg, will take turns flying the plane, built with a single-seat cockpit. Piccard was at the controls for the first flight to Arizona.

The lightweight carbon fiber Solar Impulse has a wingspan of a jumbo jet and the weight of a small car and from a distance resembles a giant floating insect.

The plane was designed for flights of up to 24 hours at a time and is a test model for a more advanced aircraft the team plans to build to circumnavigate the globe in 2015. It made its first intercontinental flight, from Spain to Morocco, last June.

The aircraft is propelled by energy collected from 12,000 solar cells built into the wings that simultaneously recharge four large batteries with a storage capacity equivalent to a Tesla electric car that allow it to fly after dark.

The lightweight design and wingspan allow the plane to conserve energy, but make it vulnerable. It cannot fly in strong wind, fog, rain or clouds.

The plane can climb to 28,000 feet and flies at an average of 43 miles per hour (69 km per hour).

The project began in 2003 with a 10-year budget of 90 million euros ($112 million) and has involved engineers from Swiss escalator maker Schindler and research aid from Belgian chemicals group Solvay.

(Reporting by David Bailey, Laila Kearney and Braden Reddall; Editing by Doina Chiacu)

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Comments (3)
howtomanguide wrote:
This is so cool.. and what fun! Nice accomplishment!

May 05, 2013 1:10pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Joohn2 wrote:
“the weight of a small car” – What is your benchmark for a “small car”?!

According to Wikipedia the Solar Impulse weighs 1,600 kg (3,500 lb). The weight of a Smart car is 730 kg (1,600 lb), a current Golf weighs 1,050 kg (2,300 lb) and the latest Ford Focus stands at 1,270 kg (2,800 lb). Usually a Golf or a Focus are already considered compact size cars. As the plane is even heavier, it might have the weight of a fairly big car… (Unless you consider anything smaller than a pick-up truck or an SUV a small car – which may actually be the standard in Phoenix from where you’re reporting.)

May 05, 2013 6:08pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
AZWarrior wrote:
Waste of money. No new technology or potential new technologies involved. Stunts like this dilute other attempts to raise the public’s interest in more important issues.

May 10, 2013 3:17pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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