Solar Impulse has made history with the first aircraft to fly across the United States without a single drop of fuel. Instead, the innovative Solar Impulse HB-SIA prototype made its segmented journey using renewable solar power.
The ambitious coast-to-coast trip from NASA's Moffett Field in Mountain View, Calif., to John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City took two months to complete, landing safely on July 6.
The aircraft draws its power from 11,628 solar cells and has an average flying speed of 43 mph. Its maximum altitude is approximately 27,900 feet, while it boasts an extremely light carbon fiber structure and an enormous wingspan equal to that of an Airbus A340.
According to the project website, the solar powered HB-SIA was designed top to bottom to save energy, resist the hostile conditions facing the plane and pilot at high altitudes, and to marry weight restraints with the required strength.
The Flight Across America mission was steered by Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg, the Swiss pilots and founders of Solar Impulse. The two men took turns manning the single passenger cockpit as it made its way across the U.S. making stops in Phoenix, Dallas Fort Worth and Washington D.C. before reaching its final destination in New York.
At the heart of the Solar Impulse project is a passion for the advancement of renewable energy. To help bring attention to the need for clean technologies, Piccard and Borschberg have launched the Clean Generation initiative. During the Flight Across America mission five custom-designed flags displaying the Clean Generation slogan were carried by the pilots and handed over to civic leaders at each stop.
“We want to show that with clean technologies, a passionate team and a far reaching pioneering vision one can achieve the impossible,” said Bertrand Piccard, initiator and chairman of Solar Impulse. He added, “If we all challenged certitudes by driving change and being pioneers in our everyday lives, we can create innovative solutions for society’s biggest challenges.”
“A flying laboratory for clean technologies, this prototype is the result of seven years of intense work in the fields of materials science, energy management and man-machine interface,” offered André Borschberg, Solar Impulse co-founder, CEO and pilot. “Many of these technologies can also be applied to sectors beyond aviation.”
The HB-SIA prototype was also purposed with demonstrating the feasibility of non-fueled flights. The lessons learned by the HB-SIA team will now be applied to the construction of Solar Impulse HB-SIB, which is due to circumnavigate the Earth in 2015.