Solar Impulse HB-SIA is a specially-designed one-person aircraft Â successfully carried out its latest test flight on Tuesday, soaring at 3,000 feet above the Bay Area of California and the iconic Golden Gate Bridge.
The Solar Impulse project was launched 10 years ago before the plane, which weighs about the same as a family car but boasts a wingspan roughly equivalent to a Boeing 747, made its first flight in 2009.
Considered the world’s most advanced sun-powered plane, the Solar Impulse took off from Moffett Field in Mountain View at first light for a two-hour practice run in advance of a planned multi-city, cross-country tour.
“That’s a mythical step in aviation,” AndrĂ© Borschberg, one of the plane’s pilots and creators, said about flying cross-country. “We are something like between 1915 and 1920, compared to traditional aviation, when pioneers tried these non-stop flights.”
The plane is a specially-designed one-person that only weighs about as much as a passenger car (about 1,600 kg), but has a wingspan of over 64 metres â€” roughly the same as that of 747 jumbo jet.
The entire top surface of that massive wingspan is made up of an array of solar panels that supply the plane with power, propelling it at speeds of up to 70 km/h and heights of up to 8,500 metres (almost 28 thousand feet).
This solar plane is powered by 12,000 photo-voltaic cells that cover its massive wings. They allow it to charge its batteries and enable it to fly day and night without fuel. The planesÂ wingspan is that of a commercial airliner but the weight of a large private twin engine plane.
The plane reaches a top speed of 43 mph and holds the record for altitude for solar-powered planes at 30,300 feet, according to the company’s website.
Its creators say the Solar Impulse is designed to showcase the potential of solar power and will never replace fuel-powered commercial flights, says the Daily Mail.
Tuesday’s flight was a technical test run to prepare for a planned cross-country trip beginning in early May.
“We are ready to do this flight across America,” said Solar Impulse co-founder Andre Borschberg during a press conference at a hangar in Mountain View, near San Francisco.
Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard, Solar Impulse co-founder and chairman, said the plane should be ready for the cross-country journey on May 1, depending on the weather.
“We like nice weather. We like sunny days,” Borschberg said.
A non-stop flight would take approximately three days travelling at the aircraft’s cruising speed of around 43 miles (70 kilometers) per hour.
“We have limited ourselves to fly a duration maximum of 24 hours,” said Borschberg, who will share the piloting duties with Solar Impulse president Bertrand Piccard.
Stops are planned in Phoenix, Dallas, Washington, D.C., and New York. Each flight leg will take 20 to 25 hours, with 10-day stops in each city.
Between Dallas and Washington, the plane will also stop at one of three other cities â€“ Atlanta, Nashville or St. Louis.
A year later, the plane made its first international flight between Belgium and France before it set off on a 1,550-mile intercontinental flight from Madrid to Rabat in June.
This flight across America is only the first step for Piccard, though. The next one will take place in 2015, when he’ll attempt to fly all the way around the world, solely on solar power, informs Yahoo!
â€śWhen I was a child I saw my father diving to the deepest point in the ocean with the US navy,â€ť Piccard said inÂ a promotional video on his website. â€śThat was my first inspiration. Today with scientific exploration I want to inspire others also to achieve the impossible thanks to pioneering spirit.â€ť