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Solar Impulse lands in OklahomaSolar Impulse Tulsa bound

Editor's note: This story was updated after Solar Impulse landed in Tulsa, Oklahoma, at 11:15 p.m. CDT on May 12.
Solar Impulse co-founder and pilot Bertrand Piccard launched in the predawn darkness from Phoenix May 12, headed for Tulsa, Oklahoma, and landed 18 hours later at 11:15 p.m. Central Daylight Time after a journey that saw him average 46 knots over 847 nautical miles.
Ground crews on bicycles prepare to assist Solar Impulse 2 as Bertrand Piccard completes an 18-hour flight to Tulsa, Oklahoma. Photo courtesy of Solar Impulse.

The technology that keeps Solar Impulse 2 aloft—17,000 solar cells powering motors and other on-board systems, including what is arguably one of the most “connected” cockpits in the world—gave the project’s co-founder some free time to stretch out in the cramped cockpit. Four and a half hours into the journey from Arizona to Oklahoma, the team’s second leg across the continental U.S., Piccard had some downtime and a chance to rest at 11,000 feet, the aircraft humming along on autopilot, its every parameter beamed around the world, and to mission control in Monaco, along with a live video feed.

By this point in the flight (which, like all Solar Impulse missions, could be followed live online), the unique aircraft that is circumnavigating on the power of the sun had generated nearly as much electricity as the average home in Hawaii uses in a day.

Piccard would ultimately climb as high as 22,000 feet before descending to land at Tulsa International Airport, where the aircraft will wait for a new mission plan and weather window to continue its journey toward New York, and ultimately complete a circumnavigation begun in 2015.

In the days leading up to the May 12 launch of flight No. 11 in the round-the-world journey, the team explained the apparent secrecy surrounding the itinerary. It wasn’t, according to a press release, a matter of keeping the route secret, but rather that the mission planners simply did not know until very shortly before each U.S. flight exactly what the route would be, or even the destination. Among the challenges the mission planning team had to account for were thermal waves rising from the Rocky Mountains, FAA requirements for precision routing, keeping the slow-moving Solar Impulse 2 safely separated from other aircraft (particularly around busy airports), and, of course, the weather.

Piccard and co-founder André Borschberg are working to raise awareness and promote renewable energy for future transportation use, though no one pretends that a slow-moving aircraft that has required a $170 million budget for its epic and record-setting journey is itself a practical system for everyday use.

Solar Impulse co-founder and pilot Bertrand Piccard
Jim Moore

Jim Moore

Editor-Web
Editor-Web Jim Moore joined AOPA in 2011 and is an instrument-rated private pilot who enjoys competition aerobatics.
Topics: Solar, Technology

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