Solar Impulse plane lands in D.C. as cross-country tour winds down
The single-seater, solar-powered Solar Impulse aircraft landed near the US capital early Sunday, on the second to last leg of its cross-country journey, organizers said.
The plane, which runs on four electric propellers powered by 12,000 solar cells mounted on the plane’s 63-meter wingspan, touched down smoothly in the dark at Dulles International Airport at 12:15 am (1415 GMT).
The Solar Impulse usually lands in the middle of the night, when traffic at the airports has subsided.
At the controls was Swiss pilot Bertrand Piccard, who is taking turns with compatriot Andre Borschberg on different legs of the flight across the United States.
Speaking shortly after landing, Piccard was elated with the flight.
“It might seem easy, but it’s the result of a lot of work,” he said, highlighting a decade of effort, including developing the plane and studying historical and current weather records.
But he said the flight has shown “we can achieve unbelievable things” with renewable energy, touting his plane that is “so efficient, so reliable it can fly without any fuel day and night.”
The plane will spend around two weeks in the Washington area and will be available for public visits at the Udvar-Hazy wing of Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.
“Congrats & welcome!” the museum said on its Twitter feed shortly after the plane hit the ground, in a landing that was broadcast live on the organizer’s website, live.solarimpulse.com.
The final leg of the cross-country journey will take the plane to New York City.
The aircraft can fly at night by reaching a high elevation of 27,000 feet (8,230 meters) and then gently gliding downward, using almost no power until the sun comes up to begin recharging the solar cells.
The flight from Cincinatti, Ohio took about 14 hours, after a 14-hour pit stop in the midwestern US city prompted by difficult weather.
The organizers had planned for the solar craft to fly directly from St. Louis, Missouri to Washington DC, but strong cross and head winds slowed down the aircraft, organizers said in a statement.
The conditions were such that the flight to Washington would have taken longer than the self-imposed 24-hour time limit set for the pilot in the cramped single-seater cockpit.
The Solar Impulse project, founded and led by Piccard and Borschberg, aims to showcase what can be accomplished without fossil fuels, and has set as its “ultimate goal” a round-the-world flight in 2015.
The first leg of Solar Impulse’s US tour took place on May 3, when Piccard flew the aircraft from San Francisco, California, to Phoenix, Arizona.
St. Louis was chosen as the Midwest stopover as a homage to aviation pioneer Charles Lindbergh and his “Spirit of St. Louis,” the first plane to fly from New York to Paris non-stop.