WASHINGTON: The sun-powered Solar Impulse 2 aircraft landed in the US state of Pennsylvania, completing the latest leg of a record-breaking flight around the world to promote renewable energy.
After taking off from Dayton, Ohio early Wednesday, the plane piloted by Swiss explorer Bertrand Piccard arrived at 8:49 pm (0049 GMT Thursday) at Lehigh Valley International Airport after a flight that lasted just under 17 hours.
On its next stage to New York’s JFK airport, scheduled for after May 30, Solar Impulse is expected to pass over the Statue of Liberty for a much-anticipated photo opportunity before landing at one of the world’s busiest airports.
“The mood is extraordinary,” Andre Borschberg, the plane’s alternate pilot, said on the ground just as Piccard prepared to land. “We are close to New York!”
The slow-moving, single-seat plane with the massive wingspan of a Boeing 747 has traversed much of the globe in stages since taking off March 9, 2015 from Abu Dhabi, with Piccard and Borschberg, a Swiss businessman, alternating in the cockpit.
The aircraft, clad in thousands of solar cells, was scheduled to depart Ohio on Tuesday but the flight was postponed after its inflatable mobile hangar was damaged when the air fans holding up the structuretemporarily failed.
However, the plane’s performance on Wednesday was “like it should be” Borschberg said. “It’s a fantasticairplane.”
The flight to Lehigh Valley was the 13th leg of Solar Impulse’s projected 16-leg east-west circumnavigation, traveling at average speeds of a mere 30 miles (48 kilometers) per hour.
“Fantastic moment,” Picard tweeted from the cockpit at one point during the flight. “I just got in touch with Air Traffic Control of New York Center. We’ve crossed the USA!!!!!”
“The flight is part of the attempt to achieve the first ever Round-The-World Solar Flight, the goal of which is to demonstrate how modern clean technologies can achieve the impossible,” Piccard and Borschberg said in a statement.
It hasn’t all been smooth sailing, however.
The aircraft was grounded in July when its batteries were damaged halfway through its 21,700-mile (35,000-kilometer) circumnavigation of the globe.
The crew took several months to repair the damage caused by high tropical temperatures during a 4,000-mile flight between Nagoya, Japan and Hawaii.
The plane was flown on that stage by Borschberg, whose 118-hour journey smashed the previous record of 76 hours and 45 minutes set by US adventurer Steve Fossett in 2006.
He took 20-minute catnaps to maintain control of the pioneering plane during the flight from Japan, in what his team described as “difficult” conditions.
The Solar Impulse 2, which weighs roughly the same as a family car, contains 17,000 solar cells that power the aircraft’s propellers and charge batteries.
At night, it runs on stored energy.
The plane’s typical flight speed can increase to double that when exposed to full sunlight.
After crossing the United States, the pilots are set to make a transatlantic flight from New York to Europe, from where they plan to make their way back to their point of departure in Abu Dhabi.
Piccard, a doctor by training, completed the first non-stop balloon flight around the world in 1999.
His teammate Borschberg is no stranger to adventure 15 years ago he narrowly escaped an avalanche, and in 2013 he survived a helicopter crash with just minor injuries.