Final leg of first trans-US solar flight begins
Plane without traditional fuel took off on 21- hour trip from Washington to NYC
Spectators view the Solar Impulse following in Chantilly, Virginia. Photograph: Win McNamee/Getty Images
The final leg of the first trans-United States flight in a fully solar-powered aircraft began today.
The plane, named Solar Impulse, took off from Washington DC International Airport at 4.46am EDT (9.46am Irish time) and is expected to land at JFK Airport in New York after a 21 hour flight at about 2am (7am Irish time).
It is designed to fly without traditional aviation fuel or emissions.Because the route is one of the busiest and densest in the country, the plane had to take off early in the morning and land early in the morning.Organisers have described the weather for the flight as “perfect”.
If the spindly experimental aircraft completes the journey as planned, it will be the first solar-powered plane capable of operating day and night to fly across the United States.
At the controls of the wide-winged aircraft is engineer and former Swiss airforce pilot Andre Borschberg, co-founder of the Solar Impulse project with Piccard, who comes from a family of explorers and adventurers.
Solar Impulse, which has 12,000 solar cells built into its 64-metre wings is a prototype for an aircraft that its creators hope will carry out its first circumnavigation of the globe in 2012.
With a wingspan the same size as an Airbus A340 and, at 1,600kg, weighing only as much as a medium-sized car, the plane is powered by four electric motors and is designed to save energy from its solar cells in high-performance batteries.
The plane completed the first leg of the journey from San Francisco to Phoenix in early May and flew later that month from Phoenix to Dallas. In early June, the Solar Impulse made the trip from Dallas to St. Louis. It flew to Washington in mid-June in nearly 30 hours of flying over two days
The plane will be retiring after it lands at JFK, completing its crossing of the United States from san Francisco to New York city.
It is ten years since the conception of the solar plane which previously set a world record 26-hour flight in 2010, European flights to Brussels and Paris in 2011 and the world’s first solar-powered intercontinental flight in 2012 connecting Switzerland to Morocco .
The project began in 2003 with a 10-year budget of €90 million . It has involved engineers from Swiss escalator maker Schindler and research aid from Belgian chemicals group Solvay. The plane made its first intercontinental flight, from Spain to Morocco, in June 2012. The aircraft is propelled by energy collected from 12,000 solar cells in its wings that simultaneously recharge batteries for night use.
Impulse is a test model for a more advanced aircraft the team plans to build to fly around the world in 2015.
Additional reporting Reuters