Video: Solar Impulse to take on the States

Posted by Pete Danko, EarthTechling

The record-setting Solar Impulse airplane has landed in America. It didn’t fly here – well, it did, but it did so disassembled and packed into the cargo load of a Boeing 747 for the trip from its home base in Switzerland to Moffett Federal Airfield in Silicon Valley.

The team behind the solar-powered airplane, which made a triumphant trip from Europe to Africa last year, including a 448-mile leg from Madrid to Salé, Morocco, is aiming to fly from the Bay Area across the U.S. sometime after May 1.

The Solar Impulse project was founded by Betrand Piccard and André Borschberg, who serve as its pilots. Their ultimate goal is to circumnavigate the globe in a new craft, with a bigger, more comfortable cockpit, based on the HB-SIA prototype that dazzled in Europe.

They were pointing at 2014 for that global attempt, but when the wing spar on the under-development HB-SIB was damaged in construction, they pushed the round-the-world flight to 2015 – and that’s when the decision was made to bring the HB-SIA to the U.S.

Taking apart the HB-SIA for shipment to the U.S. was a weeklong process, the team said in a news release [PDF]. At 208 feet, it has the wingspan of the 747 it was to travel in, so it took some care to get it disassembled and ready for shipping. But here’s an interesting fact: "The crates and rolling jigs that went into the B747 for transport were significantly heavier than Solar Impulse HB-SIA: 14,771 lb. vs. 3,527 lb. for Solar Impulse," team representatives said.

Solar Impulse reps said the airplane will be reassembled in March at Moffett, with test flights in the Bay Area planned for April. Barring problems, the team will look for the first good weather window in May to embark on the cross-continent trip to New York City, with stops in four U.S. cities, including Washington, D.C., expected.

The revolutionary carbon fiber solar airplane has 12,000 solar cells built into its wings that recharge a set of four 400-kilo lithium batteries housed in the engine pods during flight. The plane averages about 8 horsepower—similar to what the Wright Brothers managed when they first flew in 1903.

* Pete Danko, EarthTechling