Across America 2013: Safe Landing For Bertrand Piccard In Storm-Ravaged St. Louis
Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
After a non-stop flight in the zero-fuel airplane, Solar Impulse co-founder Bertrand Piccard touched down at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport at 1:28 a.m. CDT on June 4, 2013, a little more than 21 hours after taking off from Dallas-Fort Worth. This was Piccard´s longest flight to date in the solar-powered airplane.
The team´s arrival at St. Louis marks a key point in the Across America 2013 mission, as Piccard and his partner, Andre Borschberg, celebrate the history of aviation and pay homage to pioneer Charles Lindbergh. The arrival also marks another historic moment: the deployment of the inaugurable inflatable mobile hangar being used to house the Solar Impulse aircraft while the team visits the region.
With the safe and successful landing at St. Louis, Piccard and Borschberg are now one step closer to fulfilling their dream of flying coast-to-coast in a plane that runs solely on the power of the sun. St. Louis marks the completion of the third leg of the journey, with two more legs to go. Borschberg will retake the helm of the plane for the fourth leg to Washington DC later this month, while Piccard will fly for the final leg to New York, set for early July.
Borschberg recently entered the record books for a second time after setting a world distance record flight in a solar-powered aircraft when he flew from Phoenix to Dallas-Fort Worth. That flight, 832 nautical miles, beats Borschberg’s old record of 602 nautical miles when he flew from Switzerland to Spain in 2012.
For Piccard, who accomplished his longest flight to date in the single-seat cockpit, the third leg was perhaps the toughest part of the Across America project to date. As this region of the Midwest has been ravaged by a series of deadly tornadoes, one of which took the lives of three dedicated storm chasers this past Friday, finding a decent window of opportunity to put the aircraft in the sky was a challenge.
During the flight, Piccard was in contact with ElÃ¢ Borschberg, head of social media and community engagement for Solar Impulse, who asked supporters of the project to email their thoughts and comments to be transmitted over the airwaves to the pilot as he made his way across the Midwest.
“I just spoke with Bertrand, who is now 10 hours into the Dallas to St. Louis flight, with 11 more hours to go,” ElÃ¢ said in an email Tuesday afternoon. “This is the longest flight for him to date and on our Across America mission — and it takes a lot of energy to fly for this long. During this challenging flight, Bertrand could really use some words of encouragement — and even better, a good joke if you have one!”
As Piccard pushed on through the night, the rest of the Solar Impulse team was readying the inflatable mobile hangar to house the Solar Impulse aircraft upon landing. The team was to use an existing hangar at the airport, but because of severe damage from last week´s rash of deadly storms, the team decided they would pull out the revolutionarily-designed hangar that is to be employed when the Solar Impulse team completes their World Tour in 2015.
“We brought the inflatable hangar to the USA for testing purposes and in fact it allowed the mission to stay on schedule. This exercise is now a proof of concept: rather than taking the airplane to a hangar, we have taken the hangar to the airplane,” said AndrÃ© Borschberg.
The team may have been able to choose another suitable landing site or airport for their third leg destination, but Piccard and Borschberg had chosen St. Louis for one prominent reason: the role the city has played in the history of US aviation.
Charles Lindbergh was once the chief pilot for the Chicago to St. Louis US Mail Route and later named his custom aircraft “Spirit of St. Louis,” which he used in his bid to become the first man to fly across the Atlantic from New York to Paris in 1927. Also of note is the namesake of Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, named after Albert Bond Lambert, who supported Lindbergh on his transatlantic expedition.
“It was particularly important for me to come to St. Louis because I was so inspired when I met Charles Lindbergh at Cape Canaveral during a launch of the Apollo when I was eleven years old. I’m truly moved to be able to land here today with Solar Impulse,” said Piccard shortly after landing in St. Louis.
The Across America 2013 project is not only about flying across the USA in a solar-powered plane, but also about impassioning people to make a change when it comes to green energy. Piccard and Borschberg are also heading the Clean Generation Initiative, which promotes the use of clean technologies. The initiative has already rallied the support of thousands of people who are in favor of sustainable energy solutions.
The names of those who have joined the cause have become part of the Across America mission, being carried on a USB key and flown aboard the Solar Impulse aircraft during each leg of the journey as virtual passengers. At each stop along the route to New York, the team has handed off a custom Clean Generation/Solar Impulse flag to key civic leaders. The first two flags were given to the Governor of Arizona and the Texas Secretary of State.
During the team´s visit to St. Louis, a special viewing will be held at a tent nearby the Solar Impulse aircraft on two separate days. The inflatable hangar is in its prototype stages and does not allow visitors inside yet. All signed-in guests are welcome to visit the tent. The first showing is scheduled for Thursday June 6 from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. CDT, and the second is for Friday June 7 from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. CDT.