Pilot to fly across US on solar-powered plane

A major milestone for solar technology is coming up, as one pilot will be taking on the task of flying from San Francisco to New York on a plane that's powered only by solar energy. Bertrand Piccard will be taking off in a plane that he and his design partner André Borschberg call Solar Impulse, which has been in the works for almost 10 years.

Solar Impulse has a wingspan of 207 feet, which is 2/3 the length of an American football field and the same wingspan as many commercial jets. The plane also sports 12,000 solar cells and 900 pounds of batteries to keep it going for a prolonged period of time. The team of two tested-flew the plane in 2010, and it was able to stay in the sky for 26 hours straight.

However, only Piccard will be making the journey across the country, but it won't be as fast as what a commercial jet could make the trip in. Solar Impulse has a top speed of around 50 miles per hour, so it's expected to take a few days for the plane to reach New York, whereas a jumbo jet could make the trip in just a few hours.

If the Piccard name sounds familiar, than you're on to something (no, not Star Trek). In 1999, Piccard circled the globe in a gas-powered balloon, and his father, Jacques Piccard, was the first person to descend to the bottom of the Mariana Trench in 1960. After Piccard completes the flight across the US, his next goal is to take the plane around the entire world, just like he did with the balloon.

[via Smithsonian Magazine]