The Wright Brothers of solar-powered air travel were rock stars in Silicon Valley.
Andre Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard, the two Swiss pilots behind Solar Impulse 2, were treated like VIPs of the skies by tech behemoths, including co-sponsors Google and Tesla, during their nearly week-long visit to the area. Early Monday morning, the visit came to an end as the solar-powered plane took off from Moffett Field in Mountain View, California, for a scheduled 16-hour flight to Phoenix.
Piloted by Borschberg, the plane landed safely in Phoenix just under its scheduled arrival time late Monday night.
However, the pilots will long remember their time in Silicon Valley, "the land of innovation," said Piccard before Monday's flight. They were welcomed by Google co-founder Sergey Brin on the tarmac last week when Piccard landed the plane after a three-day nonstop flight from Hawaii that included a pass over the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. The plane's large ground crew had Google electric bikes to use during their stay, as well as a fleet of Tesla electric cars that greeted them on arrival.
That flight was preceded by Borschberg piloting the world's longest nonstop solo flight. He was in the cockpit for 62 hours from Japan to Hawaii. But the flight damaged the plane's battery and led to a nine-month delay.
The goal of the Solar Impulse 2, which doesn't use fuel or release polluting emissions, is to prove the benefits of solar technology and help wean the world off its reliance of fossil fuels. The pilots are on a quest to complete the first around-the-world trip in a solar plane. The 5,500-pound plane, which travels about 47 miles per hour, is powered by 17,248 solar cells built on the wings. They convert sunlight into electricity to power the four electric engines and propellers.
"Every leg is a challenge because every leg you discover something else," Borschberg recently told CNET. "It's a constant learning process."
Borschberg said the solar technologies are very reliable and function the same way solar grids on the ground do. He said communities seeking renewable energy could use the same approach the airplane does.
"This is the first step of green aviation," he said.
The Solar Impulse 2 team plans to make at least three more US stops, including New York, where they hope to fly by the Statue of Liberty before heading across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe or North Africa.
The pilots, who are alternating flying the one-man aircraft, began their epic trek in Abu Dhabi last year. They are attempting to travel some 22,000 miles around the world in about 500 hours. They hope to be back in Abu Dhabi by late spring or early summer.
The journey can be followed live online thanks to five cameras on board the plane.
Updated May 3 at 8:55 a.m.: Added that plane landed in Phoenix.