NEW YORK (AP) — A solar-powered aircraft completed the final leg of a history-making cross-country flight Saturday night, gliding to a smooth stop at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport.
The Solar Impulse touched down at JFK at 11:09 p.m., completing the final leg of the cross-continental journey that started in California in early May. For Saturday's final leg, the aircraft left Dulles International Airport a little before 5 a.m.
The flight plan for the revolutionary plane, powered by some 11,000 solar cells on its oversized wings, had called for it to pass the Statue of Liberty before landing early Sunday at New York. But an unexpected tear discovered on the left wing of the aircraft Saturday afternoon forced officials to scuttle the fly-by and proceed directly to JFK for a landing three hours earlier than scheduled.
Pilot Andre Borschberg trumpeted the milestone of a plane capable of flying during the day and night, powered by solar energy, crossing the U.S. without the use of fuel.
"It was a huge success for renewable energy," Borschberg said while standing in front of Solar Impulse on the runway at JFK. "The only thing that failed was a piece of fabric."
Bertrand Piccard, the other pilot who took turns flying the Solar Impulse across the United States, said the flight across the country tested the entire project team.
"Flying coast-to-coast has always been a mythical milestone full of challenges for aviation pioneers," Piccard said. "During this journey, we had to find solutions for a lot of unforeseen situations, which obliged us to develop new skills and strategies. In doing so, we also pushed the boundaries of clean technologies and renewable energies to unprecedented levels."
Borschberg noticed balance issues with the wing in the early afternoon Saturday off the coast of Toms River, N.J., said Alenka Zibetto, a spokeswoman for Solar Impulse.
Officials said the pilot and aircraft didn't appear to be in danger. They said the eight-foot tear on the lower left side of the wing wasn't expected to worsen through the final portion of the trip.