Solar Impulse Team Takes To The Skies Over San Francisco For Test Flight
Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Beginning in May, the Solar Impulse team of Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg plan to take their solar-powered aircraft on a high-soaring journey across America. In preparations of that historic-to-be flight, Piccard took to the helm for a day-long tour over San Francisco Bay, giving spectators a look at the HB-SIA aircraft in action.
The flight began just after sunrise Tuesday morning as Piccard shot off the runway at Moffett Field in Mountain View, California. According to Wired magazine, Piccard spent the better part of the day “giving people from Silicon Valley to Sausalito a chance to see the gentle giant of an aircraft.”
After taking off from Moffett Field, Piccard headed up the coast from Half Moon Bay towards San Francisco. By 2 p.m. the HB-SIA plane was over SF Bay cruising about 3,500 feet over the Golden Gate Bridge, with a shroud of low-level clouds and fog rolling across the Bay below.
Tuesday´s test flight, which was almost canceled due to high winds and fog, was part of Piccard and Borschberg´s “Across America” tour which is set to begin next week. Solar Impulse will make several flights across the US, stopping over in select cities on its way to NYC. This tour is set to be the team´s last before beginning its world tour in 2015.
Not only did the Solar Impulse team get to make a historic test flight over the Golden Gate Bridge, they also had the opportunity to meet with an aviation hero.
Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger III, the renowned pilot who captivated America when he made an emergency landing on the Hudson River in 2009, saving the lives of all 155 passengers aboard US Airways Flight 1549, met up with Piccard and Borschberg in the pre-dawn hours at Moffett Field.
In a CBS report, Sullenberg told Borschberg that it was “exciting to be so close to this fabulous machine,” referring to the HB-SIA aircraft.
The aircraft, which has the same wingspan as a 747, is actually nothing like a jetliner. It has a cockpit that is only big enough for one person, with no room for passengers. Also, the plane runs totally on the power of the sun, requiring no other fuel source whatsoever. The wings are covered in solar cells, 12,000 of them to be exact — enough to provide continuous power to the aircraft, making it the only solar-powered plane that has the ability to fly both day and night.
But while the aircraft can fly at any time, it cannot fly in conditions where wind may potentially be severe. The plane, which weighs about as much as a mid-sized sedan, does not have enough mass to fly safely in high winds.
After the three men had time to joke and trade stories, Piccard took to the skies. The flight lasted about 16 hours, long after the sun had set.
When CBS correspondent John Blackstone asked Sullenberger why Aviation has the power to inspire, he said: “There’s something special about being able to leave the earth and not being bound by it.”
Sullenberger, like Piccard and Borschberg, “have accomplished things in flight that seem impossible. Their hopes, like their aircraft, are not bound by the earth,” wrote Blackstone.
Speaking about Tuesday´s test flight, the Solar Impulse team said on its website: “What an incredible day, Solar Impulse high above the Golden Gate Bridge, gently hovering over the architectural masterpiece for all to see. We´ve been talking about this exploit for weeks, but seeing the first shots of the solar bird above San Francisco goes beyond what we had imagined: spectacular!”
As can be seen in the image above, getting photos of the HB-SIA in flight was quite a hair-raising experience, according to the Solar Impulse team. A media crew flew aboard a helicopter piloted by Borschberg. They were hanging out of the open door trying to get the best possible shots as Borschberg flew around, over and under the plane, trying to give them opportunities from every angle.