MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — With a wingspan of 262 feet, weighing just over 3,500 pounds, and flying at an average of 43 mph, a solar-powered plane is set to fly across the country, and if that works, the world.
The Solar Impulse, a plane that seats just one person, is a spindly looking aircraft that runs on pure solar power. The plane has about as much horsepower as the Wright brothers' 1903 flight. Test flights have shown the plane's capability, and on May 1, it is set to take off from California and fly across the country.
The plane's journey will begin in San Francisco, head to Phoenix, stop in Dallas, fly to Saint Louis or Atlanta, and finish its travel in Washington D.C and New York City. Each flight will last between 20 and 25 hours, and the plane will stop in each city for about 10 days.
"Our airplane is not designed to carry passengers, but to carry a message," said Bertrand Piccard
From there, the plane's Swiss engineers hope to send it around the world as early as 2015.
"That's a mythical step in aviation," André Borschberg, one of the plane's pilots and creators, told the Huffington Post. "We are something like between 1915 and 1920, compared to traditional aviation, when pioneers tried these non-stop flights." Friday, Betrand Piccard, a Solar Impulse team member and pilot, took the controls for a two-hour practice flight feet over San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge after the sun had set. The plane's 12,000 photovoltaic cells produce enough energy for the plane to fly at night on its charged batteries. at 3,500 feet.
Piccard also flew the plane for two other trips that day.
The plane has flown all over the world, including an intercontinental crossing from Europe to Morocco last year.
The lightweight plane is susceptible to turbulence and bad weather, and can't fly through clouds. Its designers say, however, that they do not intend it to replace commercial airliners.