News / Science & Technology

Solar-powered Plane Takes Off for Flight Across US

The Solar Impulse plane takes off on a multi-city trip across the United States from Moffett Field NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California , May 3, 2013.
The Solar Impulse plane takes off on a multi-city trip across the United States from Moffett Field NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California , May 3, 2013.
Reuters
A solar-powered airplane that developers hope to eventually pilot around the world took off early on Friday from San Francisco Bay on the first leg of an attempt to fly across the United States with no fuel but the sun's energy.

The plane, dubbed the Solar Impulse, departed shortly after 6 a.m. local time from Moffett Field, a joint civil-military airport near the south end of San Francisco, heading first to Phoenix on a slow-speed flight expected to take 15 to 20 hours.

The spindly looking plane barely hummed as it took flight in the still northern California morning as the sun was just beginning to peek out over the Santa Cruz Mountains to the east.

After additional stops in Dallas, St. Louis and Washington, D.C., with pauses at each destination to wait for favorable weather, the flight team hopes to conclude the plane's cross-country voyage in about two months at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.

Swiss pilots and co-founders of the project, Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg, will take turns flying the plane, built with a single-seat cockpit, with Piccard at the controls for the first flight to Arizona. He is tentatively scheduled to land in Phoenix at 1 a.m. local time on Saturday.

The project began in 2003 with a 10-year budget of 90 million euros ($112 million) and has involved engineers from Swiss escalator maker Schindler and research aid from Belgian chemicals group Solvay - backers who want to test new materials and technologies while also gaining brand recognition.

Project organizers say the journey is also intended to boost worldwide support for the adoption of clean-energy technologies.

"I hope people understand the potential of this technology and use it on the ground," Borschberg, who flew for the Swiss Air Force for more than 20 years, told reporters as Piccard suited up for the flight nearby. "If we don't try to fly today using renewable energy, we never will."

With the wingspan of a jumbo jet and the weight of a small car, the Solar Impulse is a test model for a more advanced aircraft the team plans to build to circumnavigate the globe in 2015.

The plane made its first intercontinental flight, from Spain to Morocco, last June.

Solar cells built into wings

The aircraft runs on about the same power as a motor scooter, propelled by energy collected from 12,000 solar cells built into the wings that simultaneously recharge batteries with a storage capacity equivalent to a Tesla electric car.

In that way, the Solar Impulse can fly after dark on solar energy generated during daylight hours, and will become the first solar-powered aircraft capable of operating day and night without fuel to attempt a U.S. coast-to-coast flight.

But the plane, which from a distance resembles a giant floating insect in the sky, is unlikely to set any speed or altitude records. It can climb gradually to 28,000 feet (8,500 meters) and flies at an average pace of just 43 miles per hour (69 km per hour).

The current plane was designed for flights of up to 24 hours at a time, but the next model will have to allow for up to five days and five nights of flying by one pilot - a feat not yet accomplished.

Meditation and hypnosis were part of the training for the pilots as they prepared to fly on very little sleep.

Asked about the downside of solar-powered flight at a news conference in March to unveil the current plane, Piccard acknowledged there was a price paid for the tiny carrying capacity and massive wings.

"In that sense, it is not the easiest way to fly," he said. "But it is the most fabulous way to fly, because the more you fly, the more energy you have on board."

He added: "We want to inspire as many people as possible to have that same spirit: to dare, to innovate, to invent."

The plane's four large batteries, attached to the bottom of the wings along with the plane's tiny motors, account for a quarter of its overall heft.

The aircraft's lightweight carbon fiber design and wingspan allow it to conserve energy, but also make the plane vulnerable to being tipped over.

A ground team of weather specialists, air traffic controllers and engineers track the plane's speed and battery levels and help the pilot steer clear of turbulence. Solar Impulse cannot fly in strong wind, fog, rain or clouds. Its machinery is not even designed to withstand moisture.

You May Like

Turkey: No Ransom Paid for Release of Hostages Held by IS Militants

President Erdogan hails release of hostages as diplomatic success but declines to be drawn on whether their release freed Ankara's hand to take more active stance against insurgents More

Audio Sierra Leone Ends Ebola Lockdown

Health ministry says it has reached 75 percent of its target of visiting 1.5 million homes to locate infected, educate population about virus More

US Pivot to Asia Demands Delicate Balancing Act

As tumult in Middle East distracts Obama administration, efforts to shift American focus eastward appear threatened More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Towni
X
Deborah Block
September 21, 2014 2:12 PM
A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Town

A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Difficult Tactical Battle Ahead Against IS Militants in Syria

The U.S. president has ordered the military to intensify its fight against the Islamic State, including in Syria. But how does the military conduct air strikes in a country that is not a U.S. ally? VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Alibaba Shares Soar in First Day of Trading

China's biggest online retailer hit the market Friday -- with its share price soaring on the New York Stock Exchange. The shares were priced at $68, but trading stalled at the opening, as sellers held onto their shares, waiting for buyers to bid up the price. More on the world's biggest initial public offering from VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid