A solar powered plane flew over New York City Friday night, after successful completion of the trans-American portion of its ongoing flight around the globe. The plane, called Solar Impulse 2, flew over the Statue of Liberty just after 2 A.M local time. Solar Impulse 2 is the largest solar-powered plane in the world, flown by pilots Andre Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard in their attempt to circumnavigate the globe, since they first headed east from Abu Dhabi in 2015. The team has encountered a number of obstacles since beginning their journey, including weather delays and technical problems.
After long delays in China, Solar Impulse 2 set a record for longest nonstop flight on the five-day trek from Japan to Hawaii. Borschberg used an oxygen mask as the plane climbed to altitudes of about 8,000 meters during the daytime in order to absorb as much sunlight as possible into the plane’s solar cells. At one point, human error on the part of the pilots led the batteries to overheat. Modifications have since been made to avoid making this a repeat occurrence.
The US leg of the flight has included stops in San Francisco, Phoenix, Tulsa, Dayton, and Allentown. The historic journey was undertaken with the express purpose of raising awareness of clean energy. The team has certainly accomplished that already, breaking 8 world records and speaking directly to UN director Ban Ki-moon, alongside 500 world leaders at the UN, directly from the cockpit.
Piccard and Borschberg are founders of the project as well as pilots. Piccard is a medical doctor specializing in psychiatry, also known for completing the first non-stop circumnavigation of the globe in a balloon. Borschberg is an engineer, fighter pilot, and professional airplane and helicopter pilot. The rest of the team includes 90 people – 30 engineers, 35 technicians, and 22 mission controllers.
Solar Impulse 2 weighs just 5,000 pounds – extremely lightweight for its size, boasting the wingspan of a Boeing 747. The cockpit is extremely small, comparable to the size of a coffin. The pilot is unable to stand up, and makes use of a toilet built into the seat. After a range of technical difficulties, the design has been tweaked and a battery cooling system has been added.
The team plans to decide when to continue across the Atlantic based on weather, a trek which they expect to take 3 to 4 days. Depending entirely on weather, the plan is to land in either France, Spain, or North Africa before continuing to Abu Dhabi to complete the landmark flight around the world with no fuel.