Solar-Powered Plane's Historic Trip Delayed

Crosswinds at the next destination, Phoenix, are too high for the plane’s expansive 236-ft wingspan

Live to fly another day — that’s what the Solar Impulse 2 will have to do.

The solar plane landed in Mountain View, California, late Saturday and instead of taking off Friday as planned, the 2.5-ton aircraft will rest and recharge inside an inflatable hanger until Monday because of poor weather conditions at its next destination.

Crew member Elke Neumann said crosswinds at the next destination, Phoenix, are too high for the plane’s expansive 236-ft wingspan.

"The plane is sensitive to turbulence, sensitive to crosswinds, and we need good weather to fly. But the advantage is when we fly, we fly forever," said pilot Bertrand Piccard, who flew 62 hours from Hawaii to the Bay Area.

Piccard said it will be worth the wait to finally take off.

"You have the tower of the airport say, 'Solar Impulse, you are clear to take off. You put full engines and you hear no noise," Piccard said. "In a way, it’s magic."

Piccard and fellow Swiss pilot Andre Borschberg have been taking turns flying the plane on an around-the-world trip since taking off from Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, in March 2015. They made stops in Oman, Myanmar, China, Japan and Hawaii.

The plane's ideal flight speed is about 28 mph, though that can double during the day when the sun's rays are strongest. The carbon-fiber aircraft weighs more than 5,000 pounds, or about as much as a midsize truck.

The plane's wings, which stretch wider than those of a Boeing 747, are equipped with 17,000 solar cells that power propellers and charge batteries. It runs on stored energy at night.

Solar Impulse 2 will make three more stops in the United States before crossing the Atlantic Ocean to Europe or Northern Africa, according to the website documenting the journey.

The project, which began in 2002 and is estimated to cost more than $100 million, is meant to highlight the importance of renewable energy and the spirit of innovation.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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