On Saturday evening the solar-powered aircraft Solar Impulse touched down safely at John F. Kennedy International Airport, completing its coast-to-coast journey across the domestic United States. The aircraft took off from Mountain View, California on May 3rd, piloted at the time by Bertrand Piccard. It was the first step in a multi-leg trek; Piccard first flew the plane to Phoenix, Arizona. Subsequent jaunts took the plane to Texas, Missouri, and Virginia, with Piccard handing off flying duties to pilot André Borschberg along the way. Each stretch took between 19 and 25 hours, with the vehicle and the Solar Impulse team resting several weeks between excursions.
The Solar Impulse HB-SIA is a single-seat electric aircraft fueled in its entirety by solar panels. Over 11,000 solar cells are spread across the plane's 208 foot wingspan, providing power and charging the batteries that take over during night flying. The Solar Impulse had previously conducted both international and intercontinental flights as well; today's landing made Solar Impulse the first aircraft to ever complete a solar-powered flight across the United States.
Borschberg's landing today was actually ahead of the original flight schedule. Solar Impulse was initially set to land at JFK early Sunday morning, but a tear was discovered on the underside of the plane's wing while it was in flight. After helicopters took photographs of the plane it was determined that the eight foot tear was stable, and an earlier landing for Borschberg was arranged. Having completed the cross-country flight, the Solar Impulse team's next goal is to fly across the entire world using only solar power, a task for which it will be looking to its new plane: the HB-SIB.