Inhabitat has been eagerly following the Solar Impulse closely on its flight across the United States, and we were excited to learn that the solar-powered plane successfully landed in New York City, completing its cross-country journey. The final leg of the trip was more exciting than expected, though, as an eight-foot tear was discovered on one of the wings during the flight. But after evaluating the damage, the Solar Impulse team determined that the wing was stable enough to complete the flight, and about 18 hours after taking off, pilot André Borschberg landed the solar-powered airplane at John F. Kennedy airport in Queens.
After the plane took off from Washington Dulles Airport on Saturday morning, an eight-foot tear was discovered on the fabric of the lower side of the left wing. But photos taken from a helicopter led Solar Impulse engineers to conclude that the damage was stable, and that Borschberg would be able to complete the flight.
“This last leg was especially difficult due to the damage of the fabric on the left wing. It obliged the team to envisage all the possible scenarios, including bailing out over the Atlantic,” said Borschberg after landing in New York. “But this type of problem is inherent to every experimental endeavor.”
The Solar Impulse is a single-seater airplane that is completely powered by the sun, and the first plane ever to be able to fly both day and night using just solar energy. The plane’s wings (which span 208 feet) are covered with 12,000 solar cells that are used to charge 881 pounds of lithium-ion batteries. The powerful batteries allow the plane to fly for 36 hours consecutively. For its cross-USA trip, the Solar Impulse is being piloted by both Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard, who have been alternating throughout the journey.
The 3,511-mile cross-country flight took a total of 105 hours and 41 minutes, and it will serve as preparation for an around-the-world flight for the Solar Impulse that is scheduled for 2015. As Borschberg pointed out, the technical difficulties will serve as a valuable learning experience for the 2015 journey.