A solar-powered aircraft flew over South Jersey in the final leg of a historic cross-country flight Saturday that included a shout-out to Atlantic City.
The experimental Solar Impulse will become the first aircraft to fly both day and night without fuel when it lands in New York City early this morning. Its 11,000 solar cells power the motor at an average of 8 horsepower with a top speed of 45 miles per hour.
“Those are the gambling facilities,” said Swiss pilot and co-founder Andre Borschberg as he flew over Atlantic City at about 10:10 a.m. Saturday. “The beaches are nice; you can relax in the water if it's not too cold.”
Solar Impulse crossed into South Jersey at 9:15 a.m., flying over North Cape May, and continued north over coastal South Jersey, flying parallel to the Garden State Parkway. It then circled off the coast for hours awaiting a 2 a.m. landing at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City.
The Swiss project began in 2003 with the goal of demonstrating that solar power is a viable technology that can be used for a variety of applications. It's next undertaking is to circumnavigate the globe.
Solar Impulse started its American voyage in San Francisco this May, making stops in Phoenix, Dallas, St. Louis and Cincinnati. The 3,500-pound aircraft's flight path will also take it past the Statue of Liberty before landing.
The historic flight garnered worldwide attention, including from a number of local aviation enthusiasts.
Richard Porcelli, an aviation historian who also works as a consultant for the chemicals industry, said he was excited for the flight.
“It's putting into practice what people have theorized,” he said. “It's a remarkable achievement.”
Porcelli, a Barnegat Township resident, said he's impressed at how durable the plane appears despite its relatively lightweight construction.
“It looks like a strong wind and it'll fall apart, but it doesn't,” he said. “That's a tribute to the materials.”
While he's skeptical about the project's direct impact on aviation's future in the short-term, Porcelli said it could lead to advances in batteries, lightweight materials and solar power.
“In terms of you and I taking a Spirit Airlines solar-powered airplane from Atlantic City to Myrtle Beach?” he said. “That isn't going to happen in our lifetimes.”
Borschberg flew the plane, which has a wingspan of 208 feet, at an altitude of about a mile and a half with an air speed of 25 knots, or about 28 miles per hour.
Despite the relatively short distance, it would be a long flight to New York City. The slow-flying aircraft would be traveling between two of the world's busiest airports and was required to take off very early in the morning and land very late at night when air traffic is at a minimum.
Flight Director Raymond Clerc, in a live video broadcast on the project website, said the airplane would circle off the coast of New Jersey for much of the day, waiting for its 2 a.m. landing time at JFK Airport. Because the plane operates on solar batteries, he said, there's no danger of running out of fuel.
Solar Impulse seats a single pilot. While flying at an altitude of about 8,000 feet, Borschberg conducted interviews with team members and various news agencies from around the world.
In a cockpit interview with WABC New York, Borschberg said federal regulations requiring a co-pilot prevented a nonstop flight, but the plane's solar generator could have allowed it to fly cross-country in about two days.
An upgraded version of the plane, which is still undergoing testing this summer, is expected to fly around the globe in 2015.
The public can track the progress of the flight and see its flight path via live video on the Solar Impulse website.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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