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SOLAR DAILY
Solar Impulse 2 begins Atlantic crossing
by Staff Writers
New York (AFP) June 21, 2016


Solar-powered plane more than halfway across the Atlantic
New York (AFP) June 22, 2016 - The Solar Impulse 2 aircraft passed the halfway mark of its marathon flight across the Atlantic late Tuesday, one of the most challenging legs of its historic sun-powered journey around the world.

The experimental plane, which took off from New York's John F. Kennedy airport on Monday, is being piloted by Swiss adventurer Bertrand Piccard, who is expected to spend between 90 and 110 hours crossing the Atlantic en route to Spain's Seville Airport.

At about 7:15 pm New York time (2330 GMT), the plane was halfway to its destination, the Solar Impulse organization said on Twitter.

Less than an hour later, it was flying over the tiny Azores islands. A live feed showed Piccard flying through complete darkness.

The plane is powered in the night sky by the energy stored in its 17,000 photovoltaic cells.

The voyage marks the first solo transatlantic crossing in a solar-powered airplane and is expected to last up to four consecutive days, depending on weather.

The first day in Piccard's ocean-crossing saw whales cavorting in the waters beneath the plane, a gorgeous full moon in the nighttime sky, and more.

"You will not believe me, but to my right, I see an iceberg in the Atlantic Ocean. Check it out!" Piccard wrote on the online blog he and fellow pilot Andre Borschberg have been keeping.

Piccard, who is taking catnaps during the marathon flight, has sounded exhausted but exhilarated by the challenge.

"Just got up from resting," he wrote on his Twitter account shortly after 0600 GMT, as day was breaking.

"Still a little tired but happy to see the sunrise while sitting in my little #Si2 home."

No heavier than a car but with the wingspan of a Boeing 747, Solar Impulse is being flown on its 22,000-mile (35,400-kilometer) trip in stages, with Piccard and his Swiss compatriot Borschberg taking turns at the controls of the single-seat plane.

Borschberg piloted the flight's final Pacific stage, a 4,000-mile flight between Japan and Hawaii that lasted 118 hours, smashing the previous record for the longest uninterrupted journey in aviation history.

The plane, now on the 15th leg of its east-west trip, set out on March 9, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, and has flown across Asia and the Pacific to the United States with the sun as its only source of power.

The plane typically travels at a mere 30 miles per hour, although its flight speed can double when exposed to full sunlight.

The Solar Impulse 2 aircraft was soaring Monday over the western Atlantic, one of the most difficult legs of its record-breaking bid to fly across the globe using only solar energy.

The plane, which took off from New York's JFK airport around 2:30 am (0630 GMT), is piloted by Swiss adventurer Bertrand Piccard, who is expected to spend approximately 90 hours -- during which he will take only short naps -- crossing the Atlantic.

"It's my first time taking off from JFK," Piccard said over a live feed from the aircraft as he headed off into the night sky en route to Spain's Seville Airport.

As of 9:30 pm in New York (0130 GMT Tuesday), the plane was near Canada's Nova Scotia and turning east to begin its ocean crossing after hugging the North American coast during the day.

Piccard noted in a blog post that he gets to experience a "Strawberry Moon" from the plane -- an astrological phenomenon that occurs when there's a full moon on the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year.

He will have "a bright full moon to guide me across the Atlantic Ocean in my solar-powered airplane."

The voyage marks the first solo transatlantic crossing in a solar-powered airplane and is expected to last four consecutive days and nights, depending on weather.

The plane, which is no heavier than a car but has the wingspan of a Boeing 747, is being flown on its 22,000-mile (35,400-kilometer) trip in stages with two pilots -- Piccard and Swiss entrepreneur Andre Borschberg -- taking turns at the controls.

The pair have flown alternating legs of the journey, with Borschberg piloting the flight's final Pacific stage, a 4,000-mile flight between Japan and Hawaii.

The 118-hour leg smashed the previous record for the longest uninterrupted journey in aviation history.

The plane, now on the 15th leg of its east-west trip, set out on March 9, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, and has flown across Asia and the Pacific to the United States with the sun as its only source of power.

- 'Smooth takeoff' -

"Smooth takeoff and all #Si2 systems have been checked here at the Mission Control Center for the #Atlantic Crossing," Borschberg posted on Twitter soon after Solar Impulse 2 was off the ground.

A few hours into the flight, which could be tracked via internet on the solarimpulse.com website, the flight team wrote that the flight was blessed with "a beautiful day without a single cloud."

In another post about seven hours into the flight, Piccard described spotting a cluster of whales in the ocean waters.

"What a beautiful sight of jumping whales. Just like the whales below me, #Si2 depends only on nature," he wrote, as a live video feed on the website captured his every movement at the controls of the aircraft.

Prince Albert of Monaco, a patron of the project, gave the flight the go-ahead from its mission control center in Monaco, telling Piccard "you are released to proceed."

Approximately a third of the journey still remains for the plane, which will fly through Europe and on to Abu Dhabi after crossing the Atlantic.

The single-seat aircraft is clad in 17,000 solar cells. During nighttime flights, it runs on battery-stored power.

"Solar Impulse is like a flying smart grid, and if we can make it work in an airplane, where we can't cheat, we can make it work on the ground, in our cities, for our homes and for all applications," Borschberg said in a statement.

The plane typically travels at a mere 30 miles per hour, although its flight speed can double when exposed to full sunlight.

"Best of luck on this wonderful adventure @bertrandpiccard & all the team," British billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson, owner of space tourism company Virgin Galactic, posted on Twitter.

Piccard and Borschberg are no strangers to adventure.

Piccard, a psychiatrist, made the first non-stop balloon flight around the world in 1999. Borschberg narrowly escaped an avalanche 15 years ago and in 2013 survived a helicopter crash with minor injuries.


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