A solar-powered aircraft lifted off from a suburban Washington airport before dawn Saturday, embarking on the final leg of a history-making cross-country flight.
The Solar Impulse flew out of Dulles International Airport a little before 5 a.m. en route to New York City. The flight plan for the revolutionary plane takes it past the Statue of Liberty before landing at New York’s JFK Airport early Sunday.
“This is a leg where everybody is quite moved,” Bertrand Piccard, one of two pilots who took turns flying the Solar Impulse across the United States, said shortly after the aircraft was in the air.
He stood on the tarmac, giving an enthusiastic thumbs up as the plane soared into the morning sky.
The Solar Impulse was expected to set down in New York around 2 a.m. Weather for the flight, which will take the plane over Maryland and Delaware, then up the coast past Atlantic City, was expected to be good. Andre Borschberg was piloting the final leg.
Despite the relatively short distance, it would be a long flight. The slow-flying aircraft would be traveling between two of the world’s busiest airports and was required to take off very early in the morning and land very late at night when air traffic is at a minimum.
The aircraft, powered by some 11,000 solar cells, soars to 30,000 feet while poking along at a top speed of 45 mph. The Solar Impulse left San Francisco in early May and has made stopovers in Phoenix, Dallas-Fort Worth, St. Louis, Cincinnati and Dulles.
The cross-country flight is a tune-up for a planned 2015 flight around the globe with an up-graded version of the plane.