Already a member? Please login below for an enhanced experience. Not a member? Join today

Airplane with no fuel to cross United StatesAirplane with no fuel to cross United States

Solar Impulse - Toulouse 2012

Photos: © Solar Impulse.

Solar Impulse, the sun-powered 25-knot airplane from Switzerland with a wingspan greater than 200 feet, will be flown to Los Angeles for a trip across the United States in 2013. The flight will be announced in December.

This is not the flight around the world that is now planned for 2015. That flight requires a newly designed aircraft now in construction. The scheduled flight was delayed when a main spar broke during testing. In the meantime, an earlier model that flew from Switzerland to Africa and back will be crated and sent to the United States in February. Negotiations are in progress to use facilities at Moffett Field at NASA Ames Research Center, although they are in an early stage.

Solar Impulse

Solar Impulse: Crossing frontiers flight - Ouarzazate to Rabat, June 29, 2012.


  • Wingspan–208 feet
  • Length–72 feet
  • Height–21 feet
  • Engines– four 10-horsepower electric motors
  • Solar Cells–11,268 (including 880 on the tail)
  • Weight–3,527 pounds
  • Average Flying Speed–38 knots
  • Takeoff Speed–24 knots
  • Stall Speed–19 knots
  • Maximum Cruising Altitude–27,900 feet

The route through the central part of the country is not determined but the end goal is to land at Washington, D.C., and New York. Bertrand Piccard, psychiatrist and pilot who made the first nonstop round-the-world balloon flight, is the initiator and chairman of Solar Impulse. André Borschberg, an engineer and graduate in management science, a fighter pilot and an airplane and helicopter pilot, is the CEO.

The airplane will be assembled in March and test flown in April. After that, the flight is weather dependent. The Solar Impulse does not like turbulence, nor could it survive much of it.

Solar Impulse 2010 Geneva

Solar Impulse lands in Geneva in 2010.

Solar Impulse is an all-electric airplane that recharges its batteries with solar panels. It’s already reached 30,300 feet–a world record for a solar-powered airplane, and stayed aloft 26 hours and 10 minutes for another solar-powered record.

A story on Solar Impulse will appear on the CBS show 60 Minutes Sunday, Dec. 2, at 7 p.m.

Solar Impulse
Alton Marsh

Alton K. Marsh

Freelance journalist
Alton K. Marsh is a former senior editor of AOPA Pilot and is now a freelance journalist specializing in aviation topics.
Topics: Solar

Related Articles