An aircraft running entirely on solar energy has successfully completed a journey across the US, arriving at New York’s John F Kennedy International Airport on Saturday night.
According to New York Daily News, the Solar Impulse aircraft was forced to change its flight plan – which would have seen the revolutionary plane passing the Statue of Liberty before landing early on Sunday morning – after a tear on the left wing forced officials to proceed directly to JFK for a landing three hours ahead of schedule. Despite being solar-powered, the aircraft was able to travel during both the day and night, a milestone that pilot Andre Borschberg hailed as an important step for alternative energies. (12 000 solar cells in the wings charge batteries for night use.)
“It was a huge success for renewable energy,” said Borschberg. “The only thing that failed was a piece of fabric.”
According to Bertrand Piccard, a second pilot who assisted Borschberg to fly the Solar Impulse across the continent, the flight tested the entire project team. “Flying coast to coast has always been a mythical milestone full of challenges for aviation pioneers,” Piccard said. “During this journey, we had to find solutions for a lot of unforeseen situations, which obliged us to develop new skills and strategies. In doing so, we also pushed the boundaries of clean technologies and renewable energies to unprecedented levels.”
The energy-efficient aircraft started its multi-stage, cross-continental journey in California in May. The aircraft, which weighs about the same as a family car, is powered by about 11 000 solar cells on its wings, which are the same size as those of a jumbo jet. During the two-month journey, the plane generated data on how the aircraft performed in disparate climates, particularly those not typical to Europe.
The aim of the flight was to boost support for clean energy technologies. The project officially began in 2003, with a 10-year budget of $112 million, and involved input from engineers from Swiss escalator maker, Schindler, and Belgian chemicals group, Solvay.
The next challenge for the team – a flight around the globe powered by nothing but the sun. According to Borschberg, the aircraft for this endurance flight is already being designed, noting that the team is focused on improving the facilities offered to the pilot for this journey. The new plane, scheduled for takeoff in 2015, will have a different cockpit and different instruments, allowing the pilot to fly for several days and nights, Borschberg concluded. “Our challenge now, having a sustainable airplane, is to develop a sustainable pilot.”