The long range Solar Impulse HB-SIA solar plane landed safely in New York at the JFK airport yesterday night around 11:09 PM. In doing so, it successfully completed its tour across the continental United States. Operating on solar power alone, the single seat aircraft was piloted and developed by Berrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg who switched out piloting duties for each leg of the trip.

The Mission Across America tour began on May 3, 2013 in San Francisco, California and ended in New York City, New York. The aircraft made interim stops in Pheonix, Arizona, Dallas Fort Worth, St. Louis, Missouri, Cincinnati, Ohio, and Washington D.C. Note that the tour time line also included a couple of weeks of rest for the two pilots, so the flight was not continuous. In all, the aircraft flew 3,511 miles at an average speed of 28.8 knots for 105 hours and 41 minutes.

The HB-SIA is definitely not going to break any speed records, but the prototype craft is speculated to be able to fly continuously for up to 36 hours (though flights so far have been less than that, for safety reasons and to give the pilots rest). The best part of the Solar Impulse is that it accomplished the continental tour on solar power alone, which is quite the feat.

As a refresher, the Solar Impulse HB-SIA is 71.7 feet long with a small fuselage below the main wing with room enough to hold one pilot. It features a 208 foot wingspan. The plane is covered with 11,628 photovoltaic cells rated at a total of 45 KW. The plane also features four 10 horsepower electric motors that drive twin bladed propellers. During the day, the solar cells power the engines as well as charge up four 21 KWh lithium polymer batteries. The batteries are then used to power the engines during night flights.

The HB-SIA can take off at 22 mph and has a cruising speed of 43 mph. Its service ceiling is rated at 27,900 feet.

The Swiss research team is already working on the successor to the HB-SIA called the HB-SIB. The new prototype will be used to travel around the world on solar power alone.

This is an awesome project that should help increase awareness of alternative energy sources as well as further research into improved battery capacity and solar cell efficiency. The tour around the globe should be happening sometime in 2015, which cannot come soon enough! In the meantime, the HB-SIA will be on display to the public at JFK later this week.

More information on the solar plane project and its past missions can be found on the Solar Impulse website.