July 20, 2013
Across America 2013: Important Milestone Both In Air And On Ground For Solar Impulse
Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
A little less than two weeks after the Solar Impulse team of Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg landed safely for a final time on American soil, the duo recently recapped the Across America 2013 mission and take a look at what is on the horizon.
The HB-SIA II prototype, a zero-fuel airplane built in Switzerland by a private team of civilians had become the first successful aircraft to fly from coast to coast both day and night solely on the power of the sun's energy. The team logged more than 3,500 miles, facing numerous challenges along the way and damage to the wing of the bird during the final flight.
The plane successfully made five planned flea hops across the USA, with Piccard and Borschberg switching off on piloting the solar-powered plane at each stage of the mission. Beginning the journey in San Francisco, California, and ending 3,511 miles later in New York City, the team proved the reliability and efficiency of clean technologies, using the Across America 2013 mission as an ambitious opportunity to promote the team's Clean Generation initiative.
The Across America 2013 project "captured the hearts and minds of supporters." During each leg of the journey, the Solar Impulse team gave the public the opportunity to visit the pilots and see the plane close up. In all, more than 75,000 people had visited the pilots and the plane during the 10-week-long mission; more than five million people followed the flights live and more than 8.3 billion media impressions were made. As well, 50 million hits were recorded on the Solar Impulse's main website along with 19 million page views.
During the Across America 2013 mission, several historical and technological firsts were made.
Borschberg set an absolute world distance record for longest flight in a solar-powered aircraft, covering 832 miles in a single day, when he flew from Phoenix, Arizona to Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas on May 23.
The team recorded challenging flights by flying over tornado-ravaged Oklahoma, landing safely in St. Louis, Missouri only to make use of an innovative inflatable hangar, specially built to house the HB-SIA II aircraft. The inflatable hangar was used due to storm damage of the main Solar Impulse hangar at St. Louis International Airport. The St. Louis stop was also made to celebrate aviation pioneer Charles Lindbergh.
On the final flight from Washington to NYC, the team encountered their first and only aircraft problem: an eight-foot tear in the fabric on the underside of the left wing. The tear forced Borschberg to land the plane two full hours earlier than the scheduled arrival time in NYC.
During the course of the Across America 2013 mission, more than 50 promotional and educational events were organized. Apart from offering Clean Generation flags to key people at each checkpoint, the team also met with several political, business and opinion leaders throughout the 10 week period such as US Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, Google CEO Larry Page, Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson, Apollo 7 astronaut Walter Cunningham, rock & roll pioneer Chuck Berry and even Lindbergh's grandson Erik.
Upon arrival in NYC, the Solar Impulse team was welcomed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and was invited to give a presentation to the United Nations.
Engineers with the Solar Impulse team, based in Lausanne, Switzerland, are busy constructing the second airplane, HB-SIB, which is now near completion. The plane will be assembled beginning in 2014 and the first test flights will follow at a later date. The HB-SIB is expected to be the plane Piccard and Borschberg use during their 2015 World Tour.
The HB-SIA plane, which was used for the Across America 2013 tour, will be dismantled and returned to Switzerland on August 5. It is scheduled to be stored in Dubendorf, Switzerland in a protected environment.
Solar Impulse, a plane with the wingspan of a Boeing 747 (208 feet) and the weight of a small car (3,527 pounds), was the result of seven years of intense planning by a team of 80 people and 100 partners and advisors. The plane is operated by 12,000 solar cells built into the wings, providing 10 horsepower to each of four electric motors. During daylight hours, the solar cells charge the 881-lb lithium batteries that allow the plane to fly at night.