Solar Impulse plane at Moffett Field, May 3rd, 2013
- At the crack of dawn, journalists and cameramen hungrily gather around the Solar Impulse HB-SIA, an airplane that doesn't use a single drop of fuel.
- Before them, a runway beckons: Moffett Field, a former naval air station located in the heart of Silicon Valley. The iconic blimp hanger is undergoing restoration. Normally, its steel lattice is covered with panels.
- The solar plane is practically all wing and tail, with only a tiny fuselage connecting the two. Four 10-horsepower electric engines propel the craft at just 43 miles per hour. "Our priority is not the speed, but the duration," says Piccard.
- Pilots (and co-founders) Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg excitedly discuss the voyage. "Today, we're starting a trip that's quite mythical in the history of aviation... flying coast to coast... it's one of the milestones."
- The first leg of the journey will take 20 hours, says Piccard, "but 10 years I've been dreaming of this flight." He flew the first non-stop balloon trip around the world in 1999.
- The airplane's cockpit boasts a solar-powered oxygen system, an electrocardiogram to monitor the pilot's fatigue level, a live video camera connected to the internet, "very compact energy bottles" for nutrition, and a seat with an integrated parachute and life raft.
- The Solar Impulse only seats one. Though Borscheberg seemed nervous during the press conference, he cracks a big smile and shares some laughs as his partner is strapped into the cockpit.
- An electric bicycle, which rode alongside the aircraft as it took off.
- Piccard completes pre-flight checks, some thirty minutes before takeoff.
- Fifteen minutes before takeoff, the Solar Impulse team attaches the cockpit canopy and begins clearing ladders and supports.
- The Solar Impulse weighs just 3,527 pounds, but it has a wingspan of 208 feet — as wide as a Boeing 747. That wing generates so much lift that the plane can take off at 27 MPH with just a few hundred feet of runway.
- At 6:12AM PT, the Solar Impulse gently, quietly lifts off the tarmac.