It’s kind of strange to see an airplane of its size flying at such low speeds. After taking flight, it took several minutes for the plane to gradually shrink into the sky. The solar-powered plane only travels at an average speed of about 40 mph, and the trip across the US will be broken into five flights that are each about 20 hours in duration.
“Our priority is not the speed,” explained Piccard. “Our priority is the duration — to be able to fly as long as we wish, just on solar power. What we look for is to have a new milestone in this very exciting history of aviation that can attract the interest of the political world and the media, and show that for renewable energies and clean technologies, and for energy efficiency we can achieve impossible things.”
After landing in Phoenix, Piccard will hand the plane over to Solar Impulse co-founder André Borschberg, and the two pilots will alternate flying for the cross-country flight. In mid-May, Borschberg will fly from Phoenix to Dallas, and from there, it will make stops in St. Louis and Washington, D.C. before reaching New York in early July.
Last year, the Solar Impulse successfully flew from Switzerland to Morocco. Prior to that, it completed a 26-hour overnight flight. After completing the cross-country flight, Piccard and Borschberg will begin preparing for an around-the-world voyage in 2015. But in order to circumnavigate the globe, the team will need to employ a newly-designed aircraft with updated systems and enough cargo room for sleeping space for flights that would last as long as five days.