Friday, May 24, 2013

Solar-Powered Plane Breaks World Record for Distance


Pilot André Borschberg touches down in Dallas after more than 18 hours in the air. Photo: Solar Impulse/Revillard/

Solar Impulse pilot André Borschberg completed a record-setting flight in the wee hours this morning after flying more than 950 miles on solar power alone, even if he was, strictly speaking, going backward for part of the trip.

His impressive flight from Phoenix to Dallas completed the second leg of the Solar Impulse team’s “Across America” trip which is expected to end in New York in early July. The enormous solar airplane, known simply by its Swiss registration HB-SIA — has roughly the same wingspan of a Boeing 747 yet weighs about as much as a Honda Accord and uses four 10-horsepower electric motors for propulsion.

We got to chat with Borschberg as he soared high over Texas en route to Dallas. He’s is a veteran pilot who flew fighter jets in the Swiss Air Force, but things are going just a bit more slowly on this trip. HB-SIA can’t even keep up with the cars zipping along on the highways below, as it typically cruises at about 30 mph.

That slow pace helps optimize its range. The four motors draw power from nearly 12,000 photovoltaic cells mounted on the wings and tail of the carbon fiber airplane. The cells also charge the batteries that power HB-SIA at night. Borschberg landed in Dallas with his batteries at about 60 percent, and will use that juice to begin the third leg of his journey.

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