Pilots and founders Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg (right) wave to the crowd after Solar Impulse lands at JFK airport

Solar-powered plane completes transcontinental trip

A solar-powered aeroplane has completed the final leg of its two-month journey across the US.

The Solar Impulse, its four propellers driven by energy collected from 12,000 solar cells in its wings that simultaneously recharge batteries for night use, landed at John F Kennedy Airport in New York City at 23:09 local time on Saturday (03:09 GMT yesterday).

The experimental aircraft had left Dulles International Airport outside Washington for its last leg more than 18 hours earlier, on a route that took it north over Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey.

The aircraft, piloted by Solar Impulse co-founder and CEO André Borschberg, had been expected to land in the early hours of Sunday, but the project team decided to shorten the flight after a 2.5m tear appeared on the underside of the left wing.

However the condition of the aircraft was declared sufficiently stable to continue, and pilot Andre Borschberg was not in danger, the organizers said.

“This last leg was especially difficult due to the damage of the fabric on the left wing. It obliged the team to envisage all the possible scenarios, including bailing out over the Atlantic,” said Borschberg shortly after landing.

“But this type of problem is inherent to every experimental endeavour. In the end, this didn’t prevent us from succeeding in our Across America mission and provided an invaluable learning experience in preparation for the round-the-world tour in 2015.”

The aircraft completed the first leg of the journey from San Francisco to Phoenix in early May and flew later that month from Phoenix to Dallas. From there it flew to St Louis, stopped briefly in Cincinnati, then flew on to Washington, where is has remained since June 16.

With the wingspan of a jumbo jet and the weight of a small car, the Solar Impulse is the first solar-powered plane capable of operating day and night to fly across the US.

The airplane, which runs on about the same power as a motor scooter to climb gradually to 28,000 feet and fly at an average pace of just 43mph, is a test model for a more advanced aircraft the team plans to build to circumnavigate the globe in 2015.

Intended to boost support for clean energy technologies, the project began in 2003 with a 10-year budget of $112m, and has involved engineers from Swiss escalator maker Schindler and research aid from Belgian chemicals group Solvay.

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