A solar-powered plane “the Solar Impulse” that has wowed aviation fans in Europe is preparing to fly across North America. This was made public by the Swiss creators of the plane through an announcement on Thursday deciding on the U.S. cities the experimental plane will visit during its “Across America” tour that kicks off in May.
The creators, Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg will display the aircraft and discuss the cross-country trip at a news conference at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View.
The Solar Impulse is powered by about 12,000 photovoltaic cells that cover massive wings and charge its batteries, allowing it to fly day and night without jet fuel. It has the wing span of a commercial airplane but the weight of the average family car, making it vulnerable to bad weather. It is designed to showcase the potential of solar power and will never replace fuel-powered commercial flights. The delicate, single-seat plane cruises around 40 miles per hour and can’t fly through clouds.
In 2010, the solar plane flew non-stop for 26-hour to demonstrate that the aircraft could soak up enough sunlight to keep it airborne through the night. A year later, it took it on its first international flight to Belgium and France. Last year, the Solar Impulse made its first transcontinental voyage, traveling 1,550 miles from Madrid to the Moroccan capital Rabat in 20 hours.
Before its coast-to-coast American trip, the Solar Impulse will take test flights around the San Francisco Bay area in April, officials said. Piccard and Borschberg are planning an around-the-world flight in an improved version of the plane in 2015.