Washington: The first airplane that can fly both day and night powered
exclusively by the sun's rays has taken off from California in the
first stage of an attempt to fly across the US without using any
The solar-powered plane, dubbed Solar Impulse, set off Friday from
San Francisco shortly after 6 a.m. local time (1300 GMT) and was
expected to land in Phoenix, Arizona, 19 hours later for the
aircraft's first stop in the first-ever fuel-free transcontinental
The Swiss developers behind the flight tout the project as a way
to demonstrate the opportunities presented by clean technologies,
with the ultimate goal of flying around the world in a
second-generation version of the Solar Impulse HB-SIB aircraft
currently under construction.
The plane has wingspan of 208 feet (63 metres) - equal to that of
an Airbus A340 - but at 1,600 kg weighs about the same as an
average automobile, according to the developers.
The power used to propel the aircraft is roughly equal to that
used by US aviation pioneers Orville and Wilbur Wright in their
first powered flight in 1903, they say.
With an average cruising speed of around 55 km per hour , the
plane is scheduled to make stops in Dallas and St. Louis before
moving on to Washington in June and completing the mission by
landing in New York City in June or July.
The aircraft is being manned by psychiatrist and balloon aviator
Bertrand Piccard, a Swiss national who co-founded the project with
his countryman, entrepreneur Andre Borschberg.
"You should see this like being in 1915 when the pioneers were
trying to do these first cross-country flights - still unable to
cross the ocean, but an important step for the development of
aviation," Borschberg said ahead of the flight.
The cramped cockpit has room for only one person, is unheated and
the pilot has to wear an oxygen mask because of a lack of
A toilet is built into the lone cockpit seat, but the developers
say the pilot should avoid eating fiber-rich foods one day prior
to the flight so as to minimize the urgency of nature's call
during the long stretch in the air.
"It's more difficult and maybe less comfortable than flying
through an airliner," Borschberg said.