Solar-powered plane makes first stop after night flight

A Swiss pilot has landed in Phoenix in the southwestern U.S. state of Arizona on the first leg of what is planned as the first cross-country flight of a completely solar-powered plane.

Adventurer Bertrand Piccard landed at about midnight in total darkness in the “Solar Impulse,” the first-ever manned plane that can fly by day or night using only solar power.

The flight from northern California took about 20 hours at an average speed of 49 kilometers per hour.

Piccard and a second pilot, Andre Borschberg, plan to share duties, making long stopovers in Phoenix, Dallas, St. Louis and Washington, before a final landing in New York next month.

The Solar Impulse has the wingspan of a 747 passenger jet, but weighs only as much as a mid-size car. The plane collects energy from the sun and stores them in batteries, so it can fly day and night. But the plane’s top speed is only about 69 kilometers per hour and it seats just one pilot, calling for frequent rest stops.

The two pilots compare their initial flight to those of aviation pioneers the Wright Brothers and Charles Lindbergh. They admit that the commercial use of solar powered planes is still far into the future, but hope the project can help lead to more energy-efficient aviation.

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