Solar-Powered Plane Kicks Off Silicon Valley to New York Tour

A solar-powered plane - energized by the power of the sun - took off just as dawn broke Friday morning from Mountain View's Moffett Field on its first cross-country tour, bound for New York as its final destination.

Considered the world's most advanced sun-powered plane, which only travels about 30 or 40 mph, the Solar Impulse has already taken successful test runs over California's Bay Area.

The point of the powering a plane with 12,000 photovoltaic cells, all powered by the sun, is to show the world that it can be done, and to inspire engineers to look for advances in clean tech.

"We're here to inspire," Swiss creator André Borschberg told NBC Bay Area before an earlier flight, adding that that he hoped this science and technology - and imagination - would trickle down to the "younger generation."

Pilot Bertrand Piccard posted a photo on his Twitter page during the flight.

The plane has the wing span of a 747, but the weight of the mid-sized car. It can only carry one passenger who has to stay awake through the entire flight. On the longer flights, the pilot is allowed to take naps eight minutes at a time. There is no auto-pilot. 

The cockpit seat is the only seat in the plane, but it has a dual purpose and it equipped with a toilet.

The Solar Impulse was designed to show the potential of solar power. Its creators say it will never replace commercial flights.  The plane reaches a top speed of 43 mph and holds the record for  altitude for solar-powered planes at 30,300 feet, according to the company's  website. 

The Solar Impulse will first stop in Phoenix, and then head to Dallas, St. Louis, Washington, D.C.,  and New York. Each flight leg will take 20 to 25 hours, with 10-day stops planned in each city.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact Us