Departing New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport June 20 to follow a trail blazed by aviation pioneers in decades past, Piccard, the project initiator and co-founder, and the team had anticipated a journey of 90 to 110 hours, but landed just 71 hours and eight minutes after launch. The aircraft covered 4,203 miles on the power of the sun alone (stored for overnight use in 5,000 pounds of batteries).
The Atlantic Ocean was arguably the last major challenge on the record-setting voyage. Co-founder André Borschberg flew Solar Impulse 2 on its longest leg, spanning five days and nights without a pause between Japan and Hawaii, demonstrating that the aircraft powered by more than 17,000 solar cells can fly perpetually, even if the pilot eventually needs a break.
“Initially the aviation industry told us it was impossible to build such an airplane, but we believed we could do it thanks to all our partners’ technologies. Last year we showed that it could fly almost perpetually, and now we confirmed it with the transatlantic flight, proving again that change is possible when we have the right mindset and are not afraid to push back our own limits,” Borschberg said in a news release.
Solar Impulse has faced its share of challenges, notably a months-long delay in Hawaii as engineers repaired and modified the “flying smart grid” that powers the four motors. Batteries overheated during the Pacific Ocean crossing, but subsequent flights to California, and across the United States, were free of reported technical issues.
The transatlantic leg of the journey saw Solar Impulse 2 average 59 mph, a higher speed over the water than previous legs, with a maximum altitude of 28,000 feet, the team reported. The timetable of the remaining leg (or legs) back to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, has not yet been released. The journey can be followed online through the team website, which includes links to real-time flight tracking, social media, and an email signup for flight alerts.