Solar Impulse has had a long journey. Since May 3, the solar plane has been working its way across the U.S., exhibiting its chops as the first craft that can fly by day and night without a single drop of fuel.
At 11:09 p.m. local time Saturday, Solar Impulse safely touched down in New York City, bringing its journey to a close. The plane landed three hours earlier than scheduled after a rip in the left wing convinced its team to make the flight as short as possible.
“This last leg was especially difficult due to the damage of the fabric on the left wing. It obliged the team to envisage all the possible scenarios, including bailing out over the Atlantic. But this type of problem is inherent to every experimental endeavor,” pilot André Borschberg said shortly after landing, according to a release.
After departing from Mountain View May 3, the plane flew five flights with stops in Phoenix, Dallas, St. Louis, Washington, D.C., and New York. It spent a total of 105 hours and 41 minutes in the air, covering a total distance of 3,511 miles. Its trip between Phoenix and Dallas set a record for the farthest flight by a solar plane.
Solar Impulse has the wingspan of a Boeing 747 but only weighs 3,527 pounds. That’s about as much as a standard car, compared to a 393,000 pound 747. It was originally built to prove a solar-powered plane could fly at night, and flew across the U.S. only after being the first solar plane to fly internationally and trans-continentally. It also holds the world record for the greatest height and longest time flown by a solar plane.
Solar Impulse made it across the U.S. with the help of two pilots, who are also the founders of Solar Impulse: CEO and engineer Borschberg and chairman Bertrand Piccard. Piccard was the first person to circle the globe non-stop in a balloon in 1999. Shortly after, he began dreaming of flying around the world without the need for fuel. Solar Impulse made its first flight in 2010. In July of that year, it became the first plane to fly through a day and night without fuel.
Piccard didn’t stop dreaming there. Now that the trans-America trip is complete, the team will focus more on a planned 2015 flight around the world. They are building a larger aircraft for the trip, scheduled to be completed by the end of 2013. It will begin test flights in 2014.
“Adventure is not necessarily a spectacular deed, but rather an ‘extra-ordinary’ one, meaning something that pushes us outside our normal way of thinking and behaving,” Piccard said in a release. “Something that forces us to leave the protective shell of our certainties, within which we act and react automatically.”