Solar Impulse plane lands in Phoenix


Watch the solar plane touch down in the dark in Phoenix, Arizona

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A plane powered only by the Sun has completed the first leg of a journey that aims to cross the US.

Solar Impulse, as the vehicle is known, took off at dawn from San Francisco, California, on Friday and landed in Phoenix, Arizona, some 18 hours later.

The craft will stop over in Dallas, St Louis, Washington DC and New York in the coming weeks.

The plane has the same wingspan as an Airbus A340 but it weighs just 1.6 tonnes.

It has already made a day-and-night flight lasting more than 26 hours, and the team aims to eventually circumnavigate the globe in 2015.

The plane took off from Moffett Field on the edge of San Francisco Bay at 06:12 local time (13:12 GMT) on Friday, and landed at Phoenix's Sky Harbor Airport at 00:30 local time (07:30 GMT) on Saturday.

This meant Solar Impulse spent several hours flying in darkness, relying solely on the energy stored in an array of lithium-ion batteries to drive its propellers.

In daylight hours, these are charged by nearly 12,000 solar cells that cover the craft's wings and stabiliser.

The Solar Impulse HB-SIA

Solar impulse plane infographic
  • Wingspan - 63m (208ft)
  • Weight - 1,600kg (3,500lb)
  • Covered with 11,628 solar cells
  • Carries 400kg (900lb) of lithium-ion batteries
  • Maximum cruising altitude of 8,500m (28,000ft)

The HB-SIA craft was piloted by Bertrand Piccard, a co-founder of the effort, who is perhaps best known for being the first person to circumnavigate the globe in a hot-air balloon, in 1999.

The trans-America bid is the first attempt of its kind - flying in the hours of daylight and in darkness - with a zero-fuel aircraft.

Together with co-founder and entrepreneur Andre Borschberg, the pair of Swiss pilots have racked up a number of world records and milestones in recent years.

The first night flight of a solar-powered craft in 2010 was followed by a first inter-continental flight in 2012.

The two pilots will share the job of flying the plane between each of the stops of the tour.

"We've been preparing for this flight since last summer, so we are all very excited," Mr Borschberg told BBC News.

The current aircraft HB-SIA is effectively the prototype for the craft that will eventually be used for a round-the-world trip. The HB-SIB should be completed by the end of 2013.

"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," Mr Borschberg said.

The launch on Friday served as the start of the pair's Clean Generation Initiative, an effort to encourage policy-makers and businesses to develop and adopt sustainable energy technologies.

"We want to show that with clean technologies, a passionate team and a far-reaching pioneering vision, one can achieve the impossible," Dr Piccard said at the announcement of the mission in March.

Landing Solar Impulse co-founder, pilot and CEO Andre Borschberg (L) greets pilot Bertrand Piccard at Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix

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  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    Good to see something done by some people with a bit of morality for a change rather than the depressing and disgusting selfishness and greed dressed up as smart that our government so seems to love. My guess si that probably some kind of scientific breakthrough is going to be requd rather than the evolution of this technology, but very useful and noble aims even though.

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    I know this isn't very useful, but neither was the Write Brothers' plane and look what followed over the years.

    Can you imagine a world where solar energy was efficient enough to replace fossil fuels? Practically unlimited clean energy for every person would solve many problems. The chances of it happening are almost zero, sure, but without experiments like this the chances are exactly zero.

  • Comment number 71.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    Nice to see these kind of stories. Its a shame they can't be more of the focus on the bbcs news reporting, in reality things like Syria, Iraq, various turmoils of people and countries is just repeats of history and is nothing really new.

    These kind of stories are new, positive and promote good scientific values.

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    As someone who has put their money where they mouth is and invested in solar panels, I hope this will bury the lie that solar power can't be put to good use such as travel, and that as technologies develop it'll be possible to have 99.9% of all buildings in the UK producing power for the National Grid. We get enough sun to make this a reality now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    Re comment 67
    Why do you insult people expressing an opion on this website?

  • Comment number 67.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    Who knows what the future holds for the human race? In a few hundred years time we may well find that Electricity,Gas & Nuclear Fuel is no longer affordable,even to our millionaires.
    Some future historian may well declare....Humanity survived....thanks to people like them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    I'm a dreamer and I believe in my dreams. Tell me why we have not applied this solar tech to 'lighter than air' craft yet? The surface area on a deridgeable would acomodate this solar gathering tech on a vastly superior scale. The need to move freight around our countries without fuel and off the roads is going to be essiential. Think of the roads without a single tracktor trailor taking up space.

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    The short clips of film of this aircraft are amazing! She looks very vulnerable to severe weather though!

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    Excellent piece of pure engineering - no immediate use but who knows what benefits this may lead to in future.
    Oh, and to the posters making the facile comments about the US using it for bombs, who obviously think they're being stunningly witty and original - please spend 2 minutes scanning the earlier comments (there's only 60 odd of them).

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    I forget how far Orville and Wright flew on their first flight but now, over a century on, we have the Airbus and Boeing. I don't equate this flight on the same level but if you don't try you never do anything.

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    Article states "The trans-America bid is the first attempt of its kind with a zero-fuel aircraft." Well, not so. The Solar Impulse website states their flight will NOT be the first to cross the USA with a solar-powered airplane; that was done by Eric Raymond twenty-three years ago! See Wikipedia (solar-powered aircraft) and the Solar Impulse website (search on their site for "Solar Aviation".)

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    Go on then 'It's not a Dictatorship etc; Where in the piece have the BBC overlaid their opinion?

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    @58. Zak Martin

    On the upside - at least they won't be polluting the atmosphere whilst they're doing it. Every cloud has a silver lining!

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    Assuming this has a successful outcome, how long before the US is bombing people in other parts of the world with solar-powered drones?

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    It's much easier to achieve this when you don't use Boeing's battery management system that requires the Li-ion batteries to be housed in hefty Stainless Steel tanks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    This just appears to be a factual report, with no opinion overlay-ed by the BBC
    So I can't really have an opinion on it yet .... awaiting mind up date from BBC checking for updates on this topic .... none found yet ....

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    Please forgive my earlier negative posts, I didn't realise one of the pioneers was related to Jean-Luc. I now hope they can make it so.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    @33boodnock I wasn't talking about 300 people, just several like a light aircraft. I'm sure technology will overcome any problems that exist and make it possible! Some are still talking about how clever the Americans are which is true, but this is a Swiss project.


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