Solar Impulse co-founder, pilot and CEO Andre Borschberg, left, greets pilot Bertrand Piccard at Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix after completing the first leg of its coast-to-coast flights across the United States.
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PHOENIX — Flying for several hours after sundown, a solar-powered airplane landed in Phoenix early Saturday morning on the first leg of a cross-country trip.
The Solar Impulse — considered the world’s most-advanced sun-powered plane — set down about 12:30 a.m. at Sky Harbor Airport, completing part of a journey that its pilot described as a “milestone” in aviation history.
Its creators said the trip is the first attempt by a solar airplane capable of flying day and night without fuel to fly across America.
The plane left Moffett Field in Mountain View near San Francisco just after dawn Friday.
Video posted on the expedition’s website showed a smiling pilot Bertrand Piccard shortly after landing, as he waved to well-wishers and held up a flag emblazoned with the Solar Impulse name.
“It’s a little bit like being in a dream,” Piccard said as he stepped on the tarmac.
From Phoenix, the aircraft will travel to Dallas-Fort Worth airport in Texas, Lambert-St. Louis airport, Dulles airport in the Washington area and New York’s John F. Kennedy airport. Each flight leg will take about 19 to 25 hours, with 10-day stops in each city.
“All the big pioneers of the 20th century have tried to fly coast to coast across America,” Piccard, one of the plane’s founders, said before the flight. “So now today we’re trying to do this, but on solar power with no fuel with the first airplane that is able to fly day and night just on solar power.”
The plane is powered by about 12,000 photovoltaic cells that cover massive wings and charge its batteries.
The delicate, single-seat Solar Impulse flies around 40 mph and can’t go through clouds. It weighs about as much as a car, making it vulnerable to bad weather.
Its creators said solar planes will never replace fuel-powered commercial flights. But the goal is to showcase the potential of solar power.
“What we look for is to have a new milestone in this very exciting history of aviation that can attract interest of the people, of the political world, of the media and show that with renewable energies and clean technology for energy efficiency, we can achieve impossible things,” Piccard said.
The plane has previously impressed audiences in Europe.
Haven Daley reported from Mountain View, Calif.