It was, by a wide margin, the shortest leg to date of the circumnavigation undertaken by the team that built a single-seat airplane powered by more than 17,000 solar cells that feed 5,000 pounds of battery for nighttime operation. Co-founder and CEO André Borschberg spent just four hours and 41 minutes in the air after taking off from Lehigh Valley International Airport in Pennsylvania, heading southeast to New Jersey before turning Northeast to Manhattan for a symbolic night flyover of the Statute of Liberty.
“There is such a strong culture of innovation and entrepreneurship in the United States, and we have felt this spirit every step of the way, be it technological innovation in the Silicon Valley, or aviation pioneering in Dayton, the home of the Wright brothers where they invented the airplane,” Borschberg said. “Among other things, arriving in New York by flying around the Statue of Liberty represents the entrepreneurial freedom that is so specific to this country.”
Piccard arrived in Mountain View, California, April 23, having chatted from the cockpit during Earth Day (April 22) with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon about climate change. He noted later that his aircraft, which set distance and endurance records for a solar airplane while crossing the Pacific Ocean, was capable of continuing straight to New York, even if the pilot needed a break. That leg of the journey had been delayed for months as the team fixed battery and power issues that had cropped up on the way to Hawaii, and the team spent part of the down time raising money to complete the effort, a project budget reported to total about $170 million.
Through the team website, social media, and blog, Solar Impulse has engaged viewers and readers around the world, offering in-flight video feeds and telemetry to those who wish to track the slow but steady progress of each flight (the aircraft averages a little more than 30 knots through the air on most legs, and has at times been pushed backward by wind).
The team will not be able to welcome visitors at JFK as it has done at many previous stops because “JFK is a very busy airport,” the team noted on its blog. “But hopefully you’ll be able to catch a glimpse of Si2 when it takes off for the crossing of the Atlantic.”
The date for that final major ocean crossing has not been set, nor has the next destination, which could be in one of several countries: Ireland, France, Portugal, Spain, or Morocco. Much will depend on where the wind and weather allows.
Piccard, in a statement issued after he greeted Borschberg’s arrival in New York, also reflected on the U.S. crossing:
“It’s amazing to see to what extent people understand not only what we do, but also why we do it: to show that if we all used the same clean technologies as Solar Impulse on the ground we could create jobs, enhance profits and boost economic growth, while also protecting the environment,” Piccard said.