Solar Impulse JFK landing

More than two months after beginning a cross-country journey, a solar-powered airplane has completed its ambitious trek across the skies of the United States without using a single drop of fuel. Solar Impulse, a Swiss-made aircraft and pioneer in green aviation, landed late Saturday night at JFK International Airport in New York, concluding a whirlwind trip that started on May 3 in San Francisco.
The landing brought much relief and joy--the aircraft developed its only major complication on the last day of the trip.

After its departure from Dulles in Washington, D.C., the pilot, Andre Borschberg, detected an eight-foot tear in the fabric underneath the plane's left wing. Circling over the Atlantic Ocean off the New Jersey coast, officials decided to land the plane three hours earlier than planned. It landed without incident.

In doing so, it became the first solar-powered aircraft to complete a flight across the United States.

Solar Impulse pilots

"This last leg was especially difficult due to the damage of the fabric on the left wing," Borschberg said. "It obliged the team to envisage all the possible scenarios, including bailing out over the Atlantic. But this type of problem is inherent to every experimental endeavor. In this end, this didn't prevent us from succeeding in our Across America mission."

After leaving Moffett Field near San Francisco, the plane made stops in Phoenix, Dallas, St. Louis, Cincinnati and Washington D.C. before its final flight to New York.

It was in the air for 105 hours and 41 minutes during its journey. It never set any speed records--it's top speed is about 45 miles per hour, and it averaged 28.8 mph over the course of its journey--but that's not the point.

Borschberg and fellow pilot Betrand Piccard made the trip because they wanted to showcase the fledgling green technology that made their solar trip possible. Approximately 12,000 solar cells found along the ultralight wings of the aircraft power the four propeller-driven electric engines. The aircraft functions during day or night, and has a service ceiling of 30,000 feet.

In promoting clean technology, the Solar Impulse team said it provoked discussion about reducing CO2 and helping politicians meet agreed-upon targets, and that the potential for this technology stretches beyond aviation into the entire transportation industry. Solar Impulse "pushed the boundaries of clean technologies and renewable energies to unprecedented levels," Piccard said.

Far from being finished, the two pilots and their team have set a target of flying Solar Impulse around the world in 2015.



Pete Bigelow is an associate editor at AOL Autos. He can be reached via email at peter.bigelow@teamaol.com and followed on Twitter @PeterCBigelow.