After risky trip across Pacific, solar plane touches down in San Francisco
Around-the-world journey continues as Solar Impulse 2 finally makes it off the Hawaiian Islands
Research & Development
Technology / IIoT
MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif.—A solar-powered airplane landed in California April 23, completing a risky, three-day flight across the Pacific Ocean as part of its journey around the world.
Pilot Bertrand Piccard landed the Solar Impulse 2 in Mountain View, in the Silicon Valley south of San Francisco, at 11:45 p.m. following a 62-hour, nonstop solo flight without fuel. The plane taxied into a huge tent erected on Moffett Airfield where Piccard was greeted by project’s team.
The landing came several hours after the Piccard performed a fly-by over the Golden Gate Bridge as spectators watched the narrow aircraft with extra wide wings from below.
“I crossed the bridge. I am officially in America,” he declared as he took in spectacular views of San Francisco Bay.
The landing came approximately nine months after the plane’s last historic touch-down, and about a week after crews deemed the solar-powered flyer fit to return to the skies. Solar Impulse 2 had sustained battery damage on its trip to Hawaii from Japan that required significant repairs.
Piccard and fellow Swiss pilot Andre Borschberg have been taking turns flying the plane on an around-the-world trip since taking off from Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, in March 2015. It made stops in Oman, Myanmar, China, Japan and Hawaii.
The trans-Pacific leg was the riskiest part of the plane’s global travels because of the lack of emergency landing sites.
In addition to the turbulence in Hawaii, the aircraft faced a few other bumps along the way.
The team was delayed in Asia, as well. When first attempting to fly from Nanjing, China, to Hawaii, the crew had to divert to Japan because of unfavourable weather and a damaged wing.
A month later, when weather conditions were right, the plane departed from Nagoya in central Japan for Hawaii.
The plane’s ideal flight speed is about 28 mph, though that can double during the day when the sun’s rays are strongest. The carbon-fiber aircraft weighs more than 5,000 pounds, or about as much as a midsize truck.
The plane’s wings, which stretch wider than those of a Boeing 747, are equipped with 17,000 solar cells that power propellers and charge batteries. The plane runs on stored energy at night.
Solar Impulse 2 will make three more stops in the United States before crossing the Atlantic Ocean to Europe or Northern Africa, according to the website documenting the journey.
The project, which began in 2002 and is estimated to cost more than $100 million, is meant to highlight the importance of renewable energy and the spirit of innovation. Solar-powered air travel is not yet commercially practical, however, given the slow travel time, weather and weight constraints of the aircraft.