The Solar Impulse, an airplane powered entirely by energy harvested from the sun, will soon take off from Moffett Field -- kicking off the first leg of its cross-country tour.
The creators of the ultra-light, solar-powered aircraft, Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg, held a press conference on March 28 inside their rented hangar at Moffett Field. The Swiss duo outlined their plans to pilot their invention across the United States this summer, and also talked about their ultimate goal: to circumnavigate the world without using a single drop of fossil fuel.
The Impulse's 208-foot wingspan is comparable to many jumbo jets, yet the aircraft weighs in at just 3,527 pounds -- about 300 pounds more than a Toyota Camry. "This prototype is the result of seven years of intense work," Borschberg said in a press release.
With a skin of thin solar panels and a heart of state-of-the-art batteries, the Impulse has already shown its ability to drink up and store enough of the sun's rays in the day to keep flying overnight. It is the first exclusively solar-powered airplane capable of flying 24 hours non-stop -- a critical ability, since the Impulse will need to stay in the air for up to five days straight to traverse the Pacific Ocean.
According to Impulse spokeswoman Alenka Zibetto, the Impulse "travels at the average speed of a scooter." Given its slow flying speed, the trip across the U.S. and then around the world will be taken in stages, with Piccard and Borschberg trading places in the cockpit.
The U.S. tour and subsequent world tour is intended not only to prove what the Impulse is capable of, it's also meant to "inspire and motivate," according to the press release.
"We want to show that with clean technologies, a passionate team and a far-reaching, pioneering vision, one can achieve the impossible," Piccard said.
The plane is scheduled to begin its first flight of the U.S. tour in early May at Moffett Field. From Mountain View, the Impulse will go to Phoenix, Dallas, an undetermined stopover point, Washington, D.C., and New York City, where it will land in early July -- if all goes according to plan.