Solar-powered plane to make Texas stop during historic journey

The world’s first plane powered purely by solar energy will stop in Dallas during a historic cross-country journey this spring, the plane’s creators announced Thursday.

Developers of the Solar Impulse airplane announced the feat of technology will take off from Moffett Airfield near San Francisco on May 1, weather permitting, and make the milestone flight to JFK airport in New York City. Dallas will provide a mid-way stop for the flight.

With no use of fossil fuels, the solar-powered plane also will make stops in Phoenix and Washington D.C. during the two-month trek.

“It carries only one pilot and no passengers, but it carries a lot of message,” said pilot Bertrand Piccard during the Thursday press conference.

Today we can’t imagine having a solar plane with 200 passengers. But in 1903 it was exactly the same,” Piccard said, noting the sense of impossibility that surrounded the first airplane flight that occurred that year. “We don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, but we have to start and see where technology takes us.”

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The U.S. flight is the latest step in the Solar Impulse team’s goal of making a flight around the world by 2015. The plane uses creative engineering and physics to harness the sun’s energy for power even after the sun sets.

According to an NPR report Tuesday, the plane’s wings, covered in photovoltaic cells, are larger than a Boeing 747. NPR reporter Steve Henn compared the plane’s appearance to “a giant space-age egret on steroids.”

Engineers calculated how much energy the solar cells could generate during the day to determine how much weight it could carry throughout the night, NPR reported. That turned out to be no more than the weight of a car.

With four electric engines, the plane has a light-weight carbon fiber frame and a bare-bones  cockpit with no heating. The pilot must use an oxygen mask because the cockpit isn’t pressurized for higher altitutes, according to the NPR report.

Last summer, pilot Andre Borschberg flew the Solar Impulse from Spain to North Africa at a very slow 40-50 miles per hour.

“The relationship with the environment and with the atmosphere, with the wind and the clouds, is much more intense than with a normal airplane,” said  Borschberg.

You can listen to the full NPR report here.