The Solar Impulse has defied all expectations in its short four-year life.
First, the solar-powered airplaneand stayed aloft for a total of 87 minutes without using a drop of fuel; then, it completed its traveling from its home of Switzerland to Brussels in about 13 hours. By its first birthday, the plane met the goal of -- flying at night with solar energy captured during the day. It has since completed a from Madrid, Spain, to Rabat, Morocco.
Now, before it embarks on its new goal to, the Solar Impulse is making the rounds across the U.S., letting aviation buffs ohh and ahh over its unique slender design, thousands of solar cells, and aerodynamic efficiency.
The plane is scheduled to depart from its temporary home at NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif. on May 1, according to the Associated Press. From there, it will touch down in Phoenix, Dallas, Atlanta, Nashville, Washington, D.C., and New York. The goal is to reach its final stop at New York's Kennedy Airport in early July using only the power of the sun's rays.
"We want to inspire the young generation to become pioneers, to help them find and develop their passion," Solar Impulse's co-founder, pilot, and CEO André Borschberg said in a press conference today, according to the Associated Press.
Despite a wingspan equal to that of a Boeing 747, the Solar Impulse weighs only around 1.7 tons, about the same as an average car. More than 12,000 solar cells mounted on the wing supply renewable solar energy to the four 10-horsepower electric motors. During the day, the solar panels charge the plane's lithium polymer batteries, allowing it to fly at night.
"The more you fly the more energy you have stored in the batteries, so it's absolutely fabulous to imagine all the possibilities the people can have with these technologies in their daily lives," Solar Impulse co-founder and chairman Bertrand Piccard said, according to the Associated Press.
The Solar Impulse is not intended to replace commercial fuel-powered jets. The plane cruises at an average of 40-miles-per-hour and its lightweight components are vulnerable to damage in storms. Also, too many clouds may hamper its ability to recharge its batteries.
As the Solar Impulse gears up for its U.S. tour, it will be taking several test flights around the San Francisco Bay Area in April, according to the Associated Press.