Solar Impulse Completes First Solar-Powered Flight Across The U.S.

A gossamer-winged aircraft has just completed an amazing flight across the country using only the power of the sun to turn its propellers.

It took roughly two months, but the Solar Impulse aircraft made it across the U.S. from San Francisco to New York, landing at about 11:15 last night. A planned flyover of some New York landmarks like the Statue of Liberty had to be canceled because the aircraft suffered a tear in the thin fabric covering one of its wings.

The Solar Impulse managed the feat by turning the solar energy that hit the photovoltaic cells on its wing surfaces into power for its electric motors. Though its wingspan is the same as an intercontinental-capable A340, the craft weighs just 3,500 pounds due to some ultralight construction materials.

The flight, which set a record for the greatest distance flown for a manned solar powered aircraft, is just a taste of what's to come: In 2015 the team wants to take a bigger version of the Impulse around the world. Though that vehicle and the current record-breaker are impractical for any useful purpose, they showcase the advances in the different technologies needed to make green flying possible, and hint at a much greener future for air travel a decade or so down the line.

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