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Solar-powered plane completes first leg of cross-country journey

Solar Impulse co-founder and chief executive Andre Borschberg, left, greets pilot Bertrand Piccard at Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix early Saturday. Solar Impulse began its journey Friday in San Francisco in its attempt to reach New York.
(Rick Scuteri / Associated Press)

The solar-powered aircraft making a landmark cross-country flight successfully completed its first leg early Saturday, and will rest about a week in Arizona before taking to the skies again.

Solar Impulse HB-SIA touched down about 12:30 a.m. at Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix. Video footage shows the pilot, Bertrand Piccard, stepping out with a smile and a wave, holding up a flag bearing the name of the aircraft.

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“It’s a little bit like being in a dream,” Piccard told the Associated Press.

The aircraft, running off solar cells and electric batteries rather than fossil fuels, has been touted as a showcase for clean technology.

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The plane travels at a leisurely 43 mph and cruises at a maximum altitude of 28,000 feet. The 18-hour opening leg from Moffett Federal Airfield near San Francisco included a pass over the Golden Gate Bridge. The expedition team posted video of the broad-winged plane hovering over the blue expanse of the bay, a bank of fog rolling in beneath.

Solar Impulse will be stationed in Phoenix at least until Thursday, spokeswoman Alenka Zibetto told the Los Angeles Times. She added that the exact length of the stay would depend on weather. The team will use the time to rest before the next phase of the expedition.

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Members of the public who want a close-up of the aircraft will be able to view it at Sky Harbor Airport on Sunday and Tuesday from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m.

“We’re hoping to show the plane to as many people as possible,” the team said in a statement on its website.

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It is proving to be a popular attraction. Online registration for the Sunday slots -- with space for 150 people per hour -- filled up within a day, Zibetto said.

Phoenix artist James Spearman, 42, is planning to take his 11-year-old son to see the plane Tuesday.

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Spearman said he and his wife, Marlene Tromp, director of arts, humanities and cultural studies at Arizona State University’s New College, have embraced the sustainability movement embodied by Solar Impulse. They both drive electric cars and have installed solar panels on the roof of their house.

The solar company SunPower, the manufacturer of the solar cells lining the 208-foot wingspan of Solar Impulse, also made the solar panels lining Spearman’s rooftop.

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He said he sees the aircraft fitting into a broader push toward alternative energy sources.

“It’s really cool to imagine a future where instead of burning jet fuel, maybe planes will one day run on some other kinds of fuels,” Spearman said.

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After Phoenix, the expedition will head to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport in Texas, then on to Lambert-St Louis International Airport in Missouri, Dulles International Airport near Washington, and New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.

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@devkelly17

devin.kelly@latimes.com

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