Solar plane lands in Arizona, first leg of trip (Update)

A solar-powered airplane landed in Phoenix early Saturday morning after a flight from California that included several hours in the air after sundown.

The Solar Impulse set down about 12:30 a.m. at Sky Harbor Airport after flying, completing the first leg of a planned cross-country U.S. trip that its co-pilot described as a “milestone” in aviation history.

The Solar Impulse—considered the world’s most-advanced sun-powered plane—left Moffett Field in Mountain View near San Francisco just after dawn Friday.

The plane has previously impressed audiences in Europe, but its creators said the trip is the first attempt by a solar airplane capable of flying day and night without fuel to fly across America.

The Solar Impulse pilot Bertrand Piccard, left, enters the cockpit before taking off to embark on a multi-city trip across the United States from Moffett Field NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., Friday, May 3, 2013. Solar Impulse, considered the world’s most advanced solar-powered plane, will stop for seven to 10 days at major airports in each city, so the pilots can display and discuss the aircraft with reporters, students, engineers and aviation fans. It plans to reach New York’s Kennedy Airport in early July—without using a drop of fuel, its creators said. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

Video posted on the expedition’s website showed a smiling pilot Bertrand Piccard shortly after landing as he waved to well-wishers and held up a flag emblazoned with the Solar Impulse name.

“It’s a little bit like being in a dream,” Piccard said as he stepped on the tarmac.

Bertrand Piccard, pilot of the Solar Impulse plane, speaks to reporters before taking off on a multi-city trip across the United States from Moffett Field NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., Friday, May 3, 2013. Solar Impulse, considered the world’s most advanced solar-powered plane, will stop for seven to 10 days at major airports in each city, so the pilots can display and discuss the aircraft with reporters, students, engineers and aviation fans. It plans to reach New York’s Kennedy Airport in early July—without using a drop of fuel, its creators said. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

From Phoenix, it plans to travel to Dallas-Fort Worth airport in Texas, Lambert-St. Louis airport, Dulles airport in the Washington area and New York’s John F. Kennedy airport. Each flight leg will take about 19 to 25 hours, with 10-day stops in each city.

“All the big pioneers of the 20th century have tried to fly coast to coast across America,” co-pilot and one of the plane’s founders, Piccard, said before the flight. “So now today we’re trying to do this, but on solar power with no fuel with the first airplane that is able to fly day and night just on solar power.”

Bertrand Piccard, pilot of the Solar Impulse plane, takes off on a multi-city trip across the United States from Moffett Field NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., Friday, May 3, 2013. Solar Impulse, considered the world’s most advanced solar-powered plane, will stop for seven to 10 days at major airports in each city, so the pilots can display and discuss the aircraft with reporters, students, engineers and aviation fans. It plans to reach New York’s Kennedy Airport in early July—without using a drop of fuel, its creators said. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

The plane is powered by about 12,000 photovoltaic cells that cover massive wings and charge its batteries.

The delicate, single-seat Solar Impulse flies around 40 mph (64 kph) and can’t go through clouds. It weighs about as much as a car, making it vulnerable to bad weather.

Pilots Bertrand Piccard, right, and André Borschberg, left shake hands before the Solar Impulse plane takes off to embark on a multi-city trip across the United States from Moffett Field NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., Friday, May 3, 2013. Solar Impulse, considered the world’s most advanced solar-powered plane, will stop for seven to 10 days at major airports in each city, so the pilots can display and discuss the aircraft with reporters, students, engineers and aviation fans. It plans to reach New York’s Kennedy Airport in early July—without using a drop of fuel, its creators said. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

Its creators said solar planes will never replace fuel-powered commercial flights. But the goal is to showcase the potential of solar power.

The Solar Impulse plane sits on the tarmac early in the morning before takes off on a multi-city trip across the United States from Moffett Field NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., Friday, May 3, 2013. Solar Impulse, considered the world’s most advanced solar-powered plane, will stop for seven to 10 days at major airports in each city, so the pilots can display and discuss the aircraft with reporters, students, engineers and aviation fans. It plans to reach New York’s Kennedy Airport in early July—without using a drop of fuel, its creators said. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

“What we look for is to have a new milestone in this very exciting history of aviation that can attract interest of the people, of the political world, of the media and show that with renewable energies and clean technology for energy efficiency, we can achieve impossible things,” Piccard said.


Explore further:

Sun-powered plane completes California test flight (Update)

More information: www.solarimpulse.com

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