Solar-powered plane Solar Impulse sets new distance flight record

23 May 2013

Solar Impulse glides over San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge. Photo via Solar Impulse/J Revillard

The solar-powered plane Solar Impulse has set a new distance record for a solar-powered flight as the craft has completed an 18-hour journey from Phoenix, Arizona, to Dallas, Texas – covering a distance of 1,451km.

The plane’s pilots and co-founders André Borscherg and Bertrand Piccard are attempting a coast-to-coast flight of the US over the next few months. That’s before they set their sights on a solar-powered flight around the world in 2015 with the Solar Impulse HB-SIB – a plane that is currently being built.

Earlier this month, Solar Impulse completed the first leg of its trans-American journey, flying from San Francisco, California, to Phoenix in a flight that lasted 18 hours.

The flight from Phoenix to Dallas, which was piloted by Borscherg, lasted 18 hours and 21 minutes, with the plane landing in Dallas at 1.08am (CDT) on 23 May.

On the next leg of its journey, the plane is destined for St Louis, Missouri, in early June, before flying to Washington, DC, and then landing in New York in early July.

The aircraft has a 63-metre wingspan – equal to that of an Airbus A340 – but weighs just 1,600kg. Solely powered by the sun, the plane captures the sun’s rays via its 11,628 solar cells to drive its four electric engines. The plane’s lithium polymer batteries, which weigh 400g, are also charged to enable nighttime flying.

In 2010, Borscherg piloted Solar Impulse during a 26-hour flight to achieve the longest and highest flight ever carried out by a solar plane.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic