Solar Impulse breaks record for longest sun-powered flight

By landing safely in Hawaii after a five-day leg, the Swiss plane -- on an around-the-world trip -- also sets the record for longest solo flight by time.

Michelle Meyers
Michelle Meyers wrote and edited CNET News stories from 2005 to 2020 and is now a contributor to CNET.
Michelle Meyers
2 min read

Solar Impulse co-founders Bertrand Piccard (left) and André Borschberg are reunited in Hawaii on Friday. Solar Impulse/Revillard/Rezo.ch

Hawaii always looks good, but perhaps never as good as it looked to pilot André Borschberg, who broke records Friday after landing a completely sun-powered plane after an arduous five-day flight.

"Just landed in #Hawaii with @solarimpulse! For @bertrandpiccard and I, it's a dream coming true," Borschberg tweeted upon landing, referring to Bertrand Piccard, with whom he is piloting the Solar Impulse 2 around the world.

"I feel exhilarated by this extraordinary journey. I have climbed the equivalent altitude of Mount Everest five times without much rest," Borschberg later added in a statement.

The single-seater Solar Impulse 2 landed around 6 a.m. local time (9 a.m. PT) at Hawaii's Kalaeloa Airport after flying nonstop from Nagoya, Japan, according to Solar Impulse's website, which live-streamed the event. It was the eighth of 13 expected legs of the trip around the globe. Borschberg and Piccard, who co-founded the Swiss outfit Solar Impulse, are taking turns piloting the plane.

The 4,000-mile leg -- considered one of the most dangerous because there was no immediate landing zone if the plane ran into trouble -- set a record for the world's longest solar-powered flight both in terms of time and distance. It also was the longest solo flight by time.

But the landing also furthers Solar Impulse's larger mission: to legitimize the possibility of zero-fuel airplanes in the future. While there are no plans to bring a solar-powered airplane to the passenger industry anytime soon, the Solar Impulse 2 presents a possible alternative to fuel-guzzling airplanes. Environmentalists have long panned airplane manufacturers for their products' heavy use of fuel and have called on agencies around the world to seek new ways to power aircraft.

"What André has achieved is extraordinary from the perspective of a pilot, " Piccard said. "But furthermore, he has also led the technical team during the construction of this revolutionary prototype. It is not only a historic first in aviation it is also a historic first for renewable energies."

The Solar Impulse 2 is completely powered by the sun and made of carbon fiber. At 236 feet (72 meters), the aircraft's wingspan is longer than that of the Boeing 747, but slightly shorter than that of the world's largest passenger plane, the Airbus A380.

Despite its size, the Solar Impulse 2 weighs less than 5,070 pounds (2,300 kilograms), or about the same as a pickup truck.

Piccard will fly to Phoenix for the next leg before the mission continues to New York, Europe and Abu Dhabi where it all started.

CNET's Don Reisinger contributed to this report.

Solar Impulse 2 begins around-the-world flight (pictures)

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