Record-Breaking Solar Plane Completes US Journey

The Solar Impulse plane has landed at New York’s JFK airport, having completed its impressive journey across the US. This is the first time that a solar-powered plane capable of flying in both day and night has attempted to travel across the United States.

The landing completes the final leg of the Solar Impulse’s across America transcontinental bid, which began in May.

Earlier in its journey, the Solar Impulse plane broke the distance record for solar-powered flight by staying in the air for a full 18 hours.

In 2012, the Solar Impulse plane became the first solar-powered craft to complete an inter-continental flight.

The record-breaking plane was designed and built by project co-founders (and Impulse co-pilots) Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg. The team hope to extol the virtues of renewable energy with their invention.

Piccard and Borshberg are also behind the ‘Clean Generation’ initiative, which is an attempt to encourage businesses and governments to develop and adopt sustainable energy resources.

The solar impulse HB-SIA has the same wingspan as an A340 Airbus, but weighs only 1.6 tonnes (by comparison an A340 weighs, on average, about 370 tonnes). The Impulse’s wing and stabiliser are covered with some 12,000 solar cells, these drive four propellers and fully charge the lithium-ion batteries for night flying. The craft has a top speed of 70 kph (45mph) and a maximum cruising altitude of 8,500m (28,000ft).

Piccard and Borshberg claim that their next step is to attempt a journey round the world, which they hope will begin in 2015. However, in order to achieve this, the pair will have to develop a bigger plane, the HB SIB.

US Secretary of Energy, Ernest Moniz, was there to welcome the craft, saying,

“If you look at the Department of Energy’s research programmes and technology visions, it involves many of the same kind of technology advances that these gentlemen have put together in an integrated system to accomplish something that would not have been thought of a few years ago (…) I believe in 10 years we’re going to see the fruits of all these technologies changing the world.”

Despite a rip in the wing, which caused the pair to scrap their proposed Statue of Liberty fly by, the Solar Impulse plane succeeded in its aims. The craft has broken records, encouraged increased thought into renewable energy and proved to be a successful invention. Solar powered passenger jets may yet be a long way off, but the Solar Impulse plane proves that the technology is getting there.

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