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 133.

    Good to know that man`sdevelopments to take mankind forward is still alive and well.After all in1800 canals and the "fast" mail coach were cutting edge.
    1828 brought the steam train and the world changed.
    The Wright brothers ushered in flight and Whittle the jet.
    Rather than bemoan C02 and push the green agenda with its taxes, this flight pointsto the progress man always makes,confounding critics!

  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    It's only a matter of time before these get armed with bombs and camera's, if they haven't aready done that yet!

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.

    As we consider if this experiment is fully successful, the air fare is high initially and will be decreased consequently and even a poor people can enjoy plane in the future.

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    Now I'm not accusing anyone of cheating but as the plane lands there is a geezer on a bike pedalling like crazy. Can't see any string, but can confirm it wasn't Mitchell. No basket case.

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    Got to giggle at the posters here complaining this isn't going to save the planet. You people would still be living in caves whilst sneering at others building mud huts.

    All technologies take a first step, then another one until something ultimately useful to us all emerges.

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.

    Solar energy is a renewable source of energy. We hope this experiment is a giant step for the conservation of fuel for the plane. I like to pray god for this success as well lots of thanks for the scientist. The fuel energy is decreasing is a tremendous way in the context of world. Feul energy has limited sources and is nonrenewable consequently finished one day. But solar energy is renewable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    The idea this is impractical is cynical rubbish. In WW2 gliders were used to ferry troops and equipment across the channel - the technology CAN be used practically. My gripe a little is with the form. The WW2 aircraft used a "tug" to get them in the air, and that is prob. still the most practical solution due to reducing payload. Surely create a glider and enviro "tug" aircraft or hoist mechanism.

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    Sorry for the use of NO instead of KNOW yet another limitation of the number of words that can be used. Have to resort to txt type in the future.
    oh ... its the seconds countdown now 120 seconds should be enough SURLY !

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    Even if there's a problem with heavy weather, then you just use such a skylifter airship on good days, same as you would with other airlifting operations or when using large cranes. The solar plane with it's low power wouldn't be able to fight against heavy weather either, in addition to not having a useful amount of lift.

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    "Could solar be added to gliders?"

    That's what this aircraft effectively is. Solar power will always be limited by the power density, currently about 150 watts per square metre under ideal conditions - usually much less. To put that into perspective, an hour's charge would add about 1 km range to a modern electric car (eg Nissan Leaf) per square metre of panel area in full sunlight.

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    OK andy G looked at the skylifter, and can see myself a number of questions and problems (can't go into here due to space), though I do think this would definitely have practical and useful application.

    My other point is really that a number of forms of transport have evolved, and there is good reason for that. It is difficult, and requires some complex maths, to work out which solution for prob!

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    This looks to me like a case of "works in theory, doesn't work in practice". Look at the weight and size of it - wing span and surface area needed for solar cells, and how many people is it carrying. How big would it have to be to compete with a plane as small as a 737, and more importantly how big would the airport need to be to support it. Rich mans toy not much else to it.

  • Comment number 121.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    That's pretty awesome, to say it's not practical is fair enough but it flew for 18 hours without fuel, it's certainly super efficient!

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    @118.thelostdot, is plane is pretty much a solar powered glider. That's not the point. The point is that these sorts of things would only have enough lift to be useful for surveillance e.t.c. drones. Not enough to carry passengers which is why I mentioned airships as they'd travel about the same speed as this plane but also have enough lift for passengers or cargo.

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    I meant really that the technologyused is applicable in other areas which add usefulness trains, and actually large cargo ships are already being built now and being commercially used, which use windmills?

    Trying to add some other considerations, we already have energy efficient planes in the shape of gliders, they were used in WW2 to get to France to fight. Could solar be added to gliders?

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    A solar powered drone.


  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    81. sieuarlu

    A useless waste of time, money, and energy."

    At the time, you could have made the same argument about the Wright Brothers' first flight. It was a novel idea, but with no real practical application. Now, look at where it's got us!

    This has great potential, which will hopefully be realised.

  • Comment number 115.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    @110.SeaMouse, the proposed disc shaped 'skylifter' airship, is designed to deal with higher than typical wind speeds for airships.
    The idea is that they'd provide a niche service, i.e. heavy airlift, of objects that are too large or unwieldy to transport by road or far too heavy for sky crane helicopters, with access to remote land based locations. You won't get rapid delivery with a solar plane


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