Solar Impulse to fly across US with SunPower cells in May

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The world's first solar-powered plane will begin its attempt at a coast to coast crossing of the United States in May powered by cells from SunPower, it was announced yesterday.

Solar Impulse is capable of flying 24 hours but after take off from San Francisco in early May, it will stop in four US cities Phoenix, Arizona, Dallas Fort Worth, Texas, Washington, DC, before landing at New York’s JFK airport in early July.

The experimental solar-powered plane has a wingspan of a jumbo jet (63.4m) and the weight of a small car (1600kg) and its trip across the US is its last “mission” before attempting a zero-fuel round-the-world flight in 2015.

Bertrand Piccard, Solar Impulse initiator and pilot, said: “We want to show that with clean technologies, a passionate team and a far-reaching pioneering vision one can achieve the impossible. If we all challenged certitudes by driving change and being pioneers in our everyday lives, we can create innovative solutions for society’s biggest challenges.”

“A flying laboratory for clean technologies, this prototype is the result of seven years of intense work in the fields of materials science, energy management and man-machine interface. Many of these technologies can also be applied to sectors beyond aviation,” said André Borschberg, Solar Impulse co-founder, CEO and pilot.

Its 200 m2 wing area features 12,000 photovoltaic cells made by SunPower in the wings and horizontal stabilisers. SunPower's Maxeon solar cell technology was selected because the average thickness of its cells, at only 135 microns to keep the aircraft as light as possible, and its 22.7% efficiency. The solar cells will power the electrical engines, storing the excess solar energy for night flying in lithium batteries.

“A pioneer in its field, SunPower represents the kind of partner we like to collaborate with to not only power the world's first manned solar aircraft, but to also spread our message on the benefits of renewable energy,” said Piccard on the announcement of the partnership in 2011.

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