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Solar airplane completes US trip in New York

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Solar airplane completes US trip in New York
The Solar Impulse on the runway. Photo: AFP
10:53 CEST+02:00
The Solar Impulse, the experimental solar aircraft operated by two Swiss adventurers, landed in New York late Saturday, ending their transcontinental trip across the United States.

The plane landed at New York's John F Kennedy airport around 11.15 local time, ahead of its originally scheduled time due to a 2.5 meters (8 foot) long tear that appeared on the fabric of the lower side of the left wing.

The coast-to-coast US journey began on May 3, near San Francisco, California. The plane then landed in Phoenix (Arizona), Dallas/Fort Worth (Texas), St. Louis (Missouri), Cincinnati (Ohio) and the capital, Washington.

Before the final leg, the two pilots spoke of the most memorable moments from the cross-country flight.

For Piccard, a Swiss adventurer who founded Solar Impulse over a decade ago, one of those moments was flying past the Golden Gate Bridge at the very start of the journey.

Borschberg recalled one of the most dangerous moments of the trip, when the wind threatened to unbalance the aircraft.

The crossing has been "more difficult than expected because of the weather: There were a lot of tornadoes, storms, causing several of our flights to be delayed or slowed down," Piccard noted.

"But despite it all, the trip was a big success."

Piccard said he hoped they could get permission to fly over New York while there is still light, and let residents of Manhattan and New Jersey get the "spectacular" view of the giant plane.

The aircraft is powered by 12,000 solar cells and flies through the dark by reaching high altitudes during the day and gliding downward over long distances by night. It uses no fossil fuels.

Drawbacks include the tiny cockpit, vulnerability to turbulence and the lack of a toilet, so the pilots must relieve themselves by using an empty plastic water bottle on solo flights that routinely last 20-24 hours.

"I never find it too long," Piccard earlier told AFP. "When you are in the most revolutionary airplane, and you know that so many people are following your flight, so many people support your message about clean energy, it is just awesome to be in that plane."

The current model, the HB-SIA, is soon to be phased out as the Swiss team prepares to make test flights of the second-generation aircraft, the HB-SIB next year.

Piccard said the next plane will be 10 percent bigger, with more power, reliability, an auto-pilot function and a toilet so that pilots can make the four to six day long trips that will be part of its journey across the world in 2015.

The plane's American trip is just the latest in a series of groundbreaking flights across different parts of the world, including Europe and Africa.

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