Solar-Powered Plane Completes Journey Across Pacific Ocean (+Photos)

By The Associated Press
The Associated Press
The Associated Press
April 23, 2016 Updated: April 24, 2016

SAN FRANCISCO—A solar-powered airplane landed in California on Saturday, completing a risky, three-day flight across the Pacific Ocean as part of its journey around the world.

Pilot Bertrand Piccard landed the Solar Impulse 2 in Mountain View, in the Silicon Valley south of San Francisco, at 11:45 p.m. following a 62-hour, nonstop solo flight without fuel. The plane taxied into a huge tent erected on Moffett Airfield where Piccard was greeted by project’s team.

“You know there was a moment in the night, I was watching the reflection of the moon on the ocean and I was thinking ‘I’m completely alone in this tiny cockpit and I feel completely confident.’ And I was really thankful to life for bringing me this experience,” Piccard said at a news conference after he landed. “It’s maybe this is one of the most fantastic experiences of life I’ve had.”

Solar Impulse 2 pilots Bertrand Piccard (L) and Andre Borschberg speak to the media in front of the solar plane from the Kalaeloa Airport in Kapolei, Hawaii, on April 21, 2016. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)
Solar Impulse 2 pilots Bertrand Piccard (L) and Andre Borschberg speak to the media in front of the solar plane from the Kalaeloa Airport in Kapolei, Hawaii, on April 21, 2016. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

The landing came several hours after the Piccard performed a fly-by over the Golden Gate Bridge as spectators watched the narrow aircraft with extra wide wings from below.

“I crossed the bridge. I am officially in America,” he declared as he took in spectacular views of San Francisco Bay.

Piccard and fellow Swiss pilot Andre Borschberg have been taking turns flying the plane on an around-the-world trip since taking off from Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, in March 2015. It made stops in Oman, Myanmar, China, Japan and Hawaii.

The trans-Pacific leg was the riskiest part of the plane’s global travels because of the lack of emergency landing sites.

The aircraft faced a few bumps along the way.

Solar Impulse 2 pilot Bertrand Piccard prepares to fly across the Pacific in a solar plane from Kalaeloa Airport in Kapolei, Hawaii, on April 21, 2016. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)
Solar Impulse 2 pilot Bertrand Piccard prepares to fly across the Pacific in a solar plane from Kalaeloa Airport in Kapolei, Hawaii, on April 21, 2016. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

The Solar Impulse 2 landed in Hawaii in July and was forced to stay in the islands after the plane’s battery system sustained heat damage on its trip from Japan. The team was delayed in Asia, as well. When first attempting to fly from Nanjing, China, to Hawaii, the crew had to divert to Japan because of unfavorable weather and a damaged wing.

A month later, when weather conditions were right, the plane departed from Nagoya in central Japan for Hawaii.

The plane’s ideal flight speed is about 28 mph, though that can double during the day when the sun’s rays are strongest. The carbon-fiber aircraft weighs more than 5,000 pounds, or about as much as a midsize truck.

The plane’s wings, which stretch wider than those of a Boeing 747, are equipped with 17,000 solar cells that power propellers and charge batteries. The plane runs on stored energy at night.

Ground crew prepare for the departure of the Solar Impulse 2 solar plane from the Kalaeloa Airport in Kapolei, Hawaii, on April 21, 2016. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)
Ground crew prepare for the departure of the Solar Impulse 2 solar plane from the Kalaeloa Airport in Kapolei, Hawaii, on April 21, 2016. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

Solar Impulse 2 will make three more stops in the United States before crossing the Atlantic Ocean to Europe or Northern Africa, according to the website documenting the journey.

“The adventure continues,” Piccard said. “The story is not finished.”

The project, which began in 2002 and is estimated to cost more than $100 million, is meant to highlight the importance of renewable energy and the spirit of innovation.

“I think innovation and pioneering must continue,” Piccard said. “It must continue for better quality of life, for clean technologies, for renewable energy; this is where the pioneers can really express themselves and be successful.”

The Solar Impulse 2 plane is moved out of the hangar to prepare for a dawn lift off at the Kalaeloa Airport in Kapolei, Hawaii, on April 21, 2016. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)
The Solar Impulse 2 plane is moved out of the hangar to prepare for a dawn lift off at the Kalaeloa Airport in Kapolei, Hawaii, on April 21, 2016. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

Solar-powered air travel is not yet commercially practical, however, given the slow travel time, weather and weight constraints of the aircraft.

“Maybe it will be boring in 20 years when all the airplanes will be electric and people will say ‘Oh it’s routine.’ But now, today, an airplane that is electric, with electric engines, that produces its own energy with the sun, it can never be boring,” Piccard said. “It’s a miracle of technology.”

 

The Solar Impulse 2 plane flies into the sunrise out of Kalaeloa Airport in Kapolei, Hawaii, on on April 21, 2016. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)
The Solar Impulse 2 plane flies into the sunrise out of Kalaeloa Airport in Kapolei, Hawaii, on on April 21, 2016. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

The Solar Impulse 2 solar plane flies out of the Kalaeloa Airport, in Kapolei, Hawaii, on April 21, 2016. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)
The Solar Impulse 2 solar plane flies out of the Kalaeloa Airport, in Kapolei, Hawaii, on April 21, 2016. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

Pilot Bertrand Piccard takes a selfie on board Solar Impulse 2 during a test flight over the Pacific Ocean on April 9, 2016. (Bertrand Piccard/Global Newsroom via AP)
Pilot Bertrand Piccard takes a selfie on board Solar Impulse 2 during a test flight over the Pacific Ocean on April 9, 2016. (Bertrand Piccard/Global Newsroom via AP)

Solar Impulse 2 flies over San Francisco on April 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Solar Impulse 2 flies over San Francisco on April 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Solar Impulse 2 flies over San Francisco on April 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Solar Impulse 2 flies over San Francisco on April 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Solar Impulse 2 flies over San Francisco on April 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Solar Impulse 2 flies over San Francisco on April 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Solar Impulse 2 pilots Bertrand Piccard (L) and Andre Borschberg speak with reporters after their solar-powered plane landed at Moffett field in Mountain View, Calif., on April 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Noah Bergeq)
Solar Impulse 2 pilots Bertrand Piccard (L) and Andre Borschberg speak with reporters after their solar-powered plane landed at Moffett field in Mountain View, Calif., on April 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Noah Bergeq)

Solar Impulse 2 takes off from Jiangbei International Airport in southwest China's Chongqing Municipality on April 21, 2015. (Chinatopix via AP)
Solar Impulse 2 takes off from Jiangbei International Airport in southwest China’s Chongqing Municipality on April 21, 2015. (Chinatopix via AP)

The Solar Impulse 2 solar plane lifts off at the Kalaeloa Airport, in Kapolei, Hawaii, on April 21, 2016. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)
The Solar Impulse 2 solar plane lifts off at the Kalaeloa Airport, in Kapolei, Hawaii, on April 21, 2016. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

Solar Impulse 2 flies over San Francisco on April 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Solar Impulse 2 flies over San Francisco on April 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Solar Impulse 2 flies over the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco on April 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Solar Impulse 2 flies over the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco on April 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Solar Impulse 2 flies over the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco on April 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Solar Impulse 2 flies over the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco on April 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Solar Impulse 2 pilot Bertrand Piccard looks out his cockpit window shortly after landing at Moffett Field in Mountain View, Calif., on April 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Solar Impulse 2 pilot Bertrand Piccard looks out his cockpit window shortly after landing at Moffett Field in Mountain View, Calif., on April 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Solar Impulse 2 flies over San Francisco before landing at Moffett Field on April 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Solar Impulse 2 flies over San Francisco before landing at Moffett Field on April 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Solar Impulse 2 pilots Bertrand Piccard (L) and Andre Borschberg celebrate after Piccard landed their solar-powered plane at Moffett Field in Mountain View, Calif., on April 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Solar Impulse 2 pilots Bertrand Piccard (L) and Andre Borschberg celebrate after Piccard landed their solar-powered plane at Moffett Field in Mountain View, Calif., on April 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Solar Impulse 2 flies over San Francisco on April 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Solar Impulse 2 flies over San Francisco on April 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Solar Impulse 2 flies over San Francisco on April 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Solar Impulse 2 flies over San Francisco on April 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Solar Impulse 2 flies over the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco on April 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Solar Impulse 2 flies over the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco on April 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Solar Impulse 2 lands at Moffett Field in Mountain View, Calif., after crossing the Pacific Ocean on April 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Solar Impulse 2 lands at Moffett Field in Mountain View, Calif., after crossing the Pacific Ocean on April 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Solar Impulse 2 pilots Bertrand Piccard (R) and Andre Borschberg celebrate after Piccard landed their solar-powered plane at Moffett Field in Mountain View, Calif., on April 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Solar Impulse 2 pilots Bertrand Piccard (R) and Andre Borschberg celebrate after Piccard landed their solar-powered plane at Moffett Field in Mountain View, Calif., on April 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

The Associated Press
The Associated Press