After completing a 26-hour flight in 2010 and going from Switzerland to Morocco completely under solar power last year, the Solar Impulse is set to take on its next challenge later this spring. The high-tech plane, powered completely be the sun, will attempt to fly coast to coast across the U.S. starting in May.
On Thursday, Solar Impulse pilots Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg announced that they will take off from Moffett Air Field at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California, on May 1 and intend to head east to New York City. Along the way, they’ll make stops in Phoenix, Dallas, Washington, D.C., and either St. Louis, Nashville or Atlanta. They expect the entire trip will take roughly two months to complete.
The Solar Impulse features a massive wingspan of 208 feet, most of which is covered in solar panels. Energy that is collected through those panels is stored in lithium-polymer batteries, which allow the plane to stay aloft even after the sun goes down. Because of its rather large size, the plane flies at a relative low altitude of just 6000 feet and at a cruising speed of about 43 mph. That may not sound like it’s very fast, but considering the entire aircraft is powered by clean energy, it is still pretty impressive.
Obviously we’re a long way from powering commercial airliners with solar power, but this experimental aircraft is a step in the right direction. If all goes well with this flight, the team intends to attempt a round-the-world flight in 2015.
[Photo Credit: Solar Impulse]