A few nights ago while we slept, an unusual airplane flew overhead on its way to Phoenix International Airport. It was the Solar Impulse ending its 18-hour-day-and-night flight from Moffett Field in San Francisco, Calif. Solar Impulse is powered solely by its on-board lithium ion solar batteries, and it landed with more power in its batteries than it had when it took off!
Solar Impulse’s four engines together generate only about as much power as that of a large riding lawn mower, but that is sufficient to move this plane at airspeeds reaching 42 mph even though its wingspan is greater than that of a 747.
|The Solar Impulse, by the numbers|
|Wingspan – 208 feet|
|Weight – 3,500 pounds|
|Take-off Speed – 27 mph|
|Cruising Speed – 43 mph|
|Cruising Altitude – 28,000 feet|
|Motors – 4, at 10 horsepower|
|Solar Cells – 11,628|
|Record Flight – 693 miles|
Publicity concerning the flight was about as quiet as its engines, so not many knew it was coming. But publicity cranked into high gear soon after the plane landed.
Tickets were offered to the public were to see the plane. The tickets were taken quickly, but this old reconnaissance plane pilot decided to do a little ground reconnaissance at the airport. I discovered that the Swiss marketers behind the Solar Impulse were very gracious, as they arranged for a delegation from Beatitudes to inspect the plane.
The next day I gathered my stand-ins for the American Aviation Historical Society and the Commemorative Air Force and visited the plane. You can view our photos in the above gallery.
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