The First Leg of the First Solar-Powered Airplane Flight Across America has Been Completed

Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg are attempting to fly across American from coast-to-coast using no fuel in their solar-powered airplane Solar Impulse.

Landing lights blazing, Solar Impulse touches down in Phoenix last Friday after completing the first leg of its flight across America (photo: Merz).


Bertrand Piccard, the first person to fly a hot-air balloon non-stop around the world, is at it again.  With his partner, André Borschberg, he is attempting to complete the first  flight of an airplane from coast to coast across the United States using no fuel. 

No fuel?  So what is he using? 

The sun.

Piccard and Borschberg’s airplane, the Solar Impulse (HB-SIA), wouldn’t know what to do if you waved a gas nozzle it.  The advanced airplane utilizes nearly 12,000 solar cells to generate electricity to power four electric engines.  Surplus energy is stored in lithium-ion batteries, which allow for another first:  the Solar Impulse can fly at night.  The crossing of America is a tune-up for the ultimate goal, which is to fly a solar-powered airplane around the world.  If all goes according to plan, that should take place sometime in 2015, when they will fly their next-gen plane, the HB-SIB

The Solar Impulse took off from Moffett Field, near San Francisco, early on the morning of May 3.  Approximately eighteen hours later, it landed in Phoenix.  As the journey continues, the plane will make stops in Dallas, St. Louis, Washington D.C., and end in New York City.  Borschberg, a former pilot for the Swiss air force, will fly the final segments.

The plane has a wingspan of 208 feet — equivalent to a jumbo jet — but weighs about as much as a car.  It cruises at 43 mph at altitudes above 20,000 feet.  It is basically a proof-of-concept, showing not only that airplanes can be powered solely by the sun, but that sustainable energy technologies can be pursued as replacements for civilization’s current energy portfolio that relies overwhelmingly on polluting and nonrenewable fossil fuels.

Advances in recent years in solar cell technology, battery technology, and materials applications (particularly carbon fiber) have paved the way for this new solar-powered airplane design.  Piccard and Borschberg are on the cutting edge of a new era in aviation.

Borschberg said:

You should see this like being in 1915 when the pioneers were trying to do these first cross-country flights — still unable to cross the ocean, but an important step for the development of aviation.

Added Piccard:

We want to show that with clean technologies, a passionate team and a far-reaching pioneering vision, one can achieve the impossible.

What was made obvious last Friday is that this trip is anything but impossible.  All it takes is a couple of innovators who believe in themselves and their vision in order to take the next step in advancing the boundaries of aviation technology.

You can follow the progress of the Solar Impulse at their site, linked-to above.  And if you would like to personally make use of advances in solar energy technology by acquiring solar-powered devices and solar-power chargers for powering your electronics, shop at Earthtech Products

Below is a beautiful video of Piccard flying the Solar Impulse above San Francisco Bay…


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