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Solar-powered airplane completes trans-America flight


July 7, 2013

André Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard celebrate the completion of the Solar Impulse's Mission Across America at New York's JFK International Airport

André Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard celebrate the completion of the Solar Impulse's Mission Across America at New York's JFK International Airport

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Solar Impulse – the solar-powered airplane of Swiss pioneers Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg – has successfully landed at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. In so doing, it begins a new era in the history of aviation: for the first time, a plane capable of flying day and night powered exclusively by solar energy has crossed the USA from the west to the east coasts, without using a single drop of fuel.

Solar Impulse's Mission Across America began in San Francisco on May 3, and made stops in Phoenix, Dallas-Fort Worth, St. Louis (where the plane's inflatable hangar was used for the firs time), Cincinnati and Washington D.C. The 3,511-mile (5,530-km) trip took a total of 105 hours and 41 minutes in the air, for an average speed of 33.14 mph (53.34 km/h).

The flight ended at New York City's John F. Kennedy International Airport on July 6 at 11:09 pm local time. The pilot for this final leg of the voyage was Borschberg, who had alternated with Piccard throughout the journey.

While Solar Impulse succeeded in finishing the cross-country flight, during the flight from Washington D.C. to New York its left wing suffered an 8-foot (2.5-m) rip in the wing fabric on the lower wing surface. Inspection by helicopter while in flight led to the conclusion that the rip was stable, and would not prevent the mission from proceeding.

After catching their collective breaths, the next set of tasks for the Solar Impulse team is to build and test the next-generation of the solar-powered aircraft. The HB-SIB will be larger and heavier, comprising a pressurized cockpit to allow cruising at altitudes up to 39,000 feet (12 km). Advanced avionics will allow the HB-SIB to safely navigate the airways on transcontinental and transoceanic flights. HB-SIB test flights are likely to begin in 2014.

Source: Solar Impulse

About the Author
Brian Dodson From an early age Brian wanted to become a scientist. He did, earning a Ph.D. in physics and embarking on an R&D career which has recently broken the 40th anniversary. What he didn't expect was that along the way he would become a patent agent, a rocket scientist, a gourmet cook, a biotech entrepreneur, an opera tenor and a science writer. All articles by Brian Dodson

33mph... and this proves what....? I suppose this could be considered a first step. My question is a "first" step to what? Carried two people and took how many hours. Come on. China, Russia and Europe are pulling ahead of us in technology and innovation. Shows how this feat will lead to any... any advances within the next few years.

S Michael

So, you would have preferred more people completing the journey in less time? Any suggestions how they could accomplish this for the next attempt?

Gerald Grey

When the Wright brothers first flew, the majority of people expressed opinions like yours, S Michael. These days most of us know better.

Tony Morris

Would you have said that about Wright bros first flight? It prove you can cross a large distance without relying on fossil fuel. A major step in the right direction. I'm surprised that had to be said

Dylan Kemp

It is their money and I certainly don't have a problem with them spending it on what they want but what are they trying to achieve? They built and flew an uncomfortable, fragile, and really really s l o w plane very far. They made headlines and got their pictures in the 'papers'. They even demonstrated that solar is not quite as limited as it use to be. But if they want to effect anything but 'toy' planes they would be better off building a sunlight, water, and air to liquid fuel pilot plant.


Like Slowburn, I would not diminish at all this magnificent achievement. As well as the technology, it has elements of human challenge, like the round-the world-yachtsmen .. but he has a point.

It is still, after all, all about the hydrogen, mostly locked up in carbon for us to burn, and is what powered the lathes and chemical plants and computers, and heating and all the stuff that helped build that aircraft.

Our solar collectors do not yet approach what plant leaves can do with the energy. We might be forced into using less, but we will always be trying to find ways too get at more. Maybe a future nuclear plant (fusion or otherwise) might be set to tearing back hydrogen from the water, and selling it back to us as a liquid fuel. I don't imagine any would be set to grabbing back any CO2!

Still, these guys are great! Electric airliners might come, but not likely solar powered, even if the collecting area rivaled its own airport apron! You have got to admire the innovation that let them take off at all, let alone cross America, even at 30mph!


I am truly surprised that on a website devoted to showing tehnological innovations and possibilities that this has to be stated, but apparently it does. Every major innovation took time and vision to develop. None of them sprang fully formed ready for commercial / private use. Every technology we use today started out slow, clumsy, inefficient and bulky. Most took more time and resources than their predecessors and were often written off by the public who were not able to see the possibilities they represented. The automobile, airplane, microwave, telephone, computer, radio, lightbulb, and a host of others looked nothing like their current incarnations do. They were often so BIG, slow, and bad at doing the job they were designed for that most people looked at them as niche items at best and mostly as utter wastes of time. It took years, and in the case of the human body millions of years, to develop whatever is currently being used. So why wouldn't something new take years to develop as well? Often half the battle is proving something can be done in the first place. It builds momentum and pushes people to try harder, to go the next step. Someone fly? preposterous! Someone fly across the Atlantic? ridiculous! Someone orbit the earth, unheard of! Visit the moon? impossible!

How on earth can we create anything new if we don't have the capacity to see its POTENTIAL and if it must be commercially viable from the moment of inception? Obviously this is not a commercially viable plane yet. But I don't see many people commuting to work on a horse and buggy anymore so maybe if we cut the designers a little slack and give them some time they just might innovate air travel, something that in itself was laughed at when it took its first baby steps.


And please don't forget that this a new record, NOT the first solar-powered flight across the US.


i like it! my favorite comparison is always what the common folk called "fulton's folly".


Why does everything have to PROVE something or even be practical? When Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager flew the Voyager around the world unrefueled and non stop there was very little practical knowledge gain by Burt Rutan's aircraft but it was a huge adventure!!

I am a private pilot and I would have loved being one of these two guys just to be part of a pretty amazing adventure! There are so many no-sayers and complainers here. Everything get ripped apart. Can't you look past the "We have to save the world with this airplane or it is crap" outlook and just enjoy the joy of their accomplishment and a pretty amazing adventure?

Just one look at this plane tells me they had no easy task and there must have been times that were very scary and it had to have been getting bounced all over the sky by each thermal it hit. They probably had a very rough ride if they flew during the day. I think there was a certain amount of bravery involved. Despite this people that have flown nothing more than their keyboards have to tear apart their accomplishment.

That is sad guys, really sad.


I see two immediate uses provided minor improvements can be made.

One: remove pilots; install autopilot and radio gear so that the thing can fly at 60000 feet and act as an airborne "cell phone tower". At that height, it's invisible from the ground and above commercial air traffic. These "cell drones" could scoot away if a hurricane approached, then come around behind to restore badly needed service right after.

TWO: NSA and local cops will use it to continually spy on us. Count on it.


I can still remember saying, " What the hell do I need a computer for? "

If they had made the flight in half the time, the myopic naysayers would still not be silenced.

Don't let Elon Musk in on this or we'll all be flying around like the Jetsons.


So what if this was a huge adventure for the pilots? Neither is this a technology that will bring adventure to the masses. Solar flight has been with us for decades, yet the progress has been minimal. Comparing this to what the Wright brothers has it wrong. Rather compare this to what people did BEFORE the Wright brothers came along. The track people were on back then was wrong and the same here. At this rate of progress, solar flight will never be a reality for the masses or even the few. It will always be novel experimentation. More than anything this proves that solar flight is going nowhere.

At least that's how I feel about MANNED solar flight. It has plenty of unmanned uses and the tech for that has shown significant progress.


You can't teach someone how to be innovative. As such, I have no response to the naysayers.

Trevor Edmonds

KUDOS GUYS !!! good job! as an aircraft mechanic I understand all the problems they had to overcome-I am still looking forward to a new pollution free source of energy that I feel is on the horizon- most likely in the fusion area, unlimited energy 0 pollution. Solar cells are great but woefully underpowered for flight on their own

Dave Ussery
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