The term “barnstorming” means traveling around the countryside giving speeches, lectures or performances. Solar Impulse, the first aircraft that runs completely on solar energy, barnstormed across America to make a point about dramatic progress in renewable solar power.
The Swiss team that developed and pilots the Solar Impulse, André Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard, completed the journey across the U.S., landing at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport in July 2013, two months after taking off in San Francisco, Calif. Stops en route included Phoenix, Ariz., St. Louis, Mo., Cincinnati, Ohio and Washington, D.C.
The airplane has a dramatic 208-foot wingspan and is powered by 4X10 HP electric engines. Its average flying speed is 70 km/h (43 mph) and its maximum altitude is 8,500m, or 27,900 feet.
A special inflatable hangar was constructed for the plane. The Solar Impulse main partner Solvay S.A., headquartered in Brussels, Belgium, is a chemical company with expertise in plastics and polymers. Solvay consulted with the Solar Impulse team on a fabric for the inflatable hangar, recommending a lightweight material sourced from the sailing world. Once fully inflated, the hangar can protect the Solar Impulse from wind gusts up to 62 mph. The material’s translucency also allows the plane to charge its batteries while sitting in its hangar.
It is the first aircraft to fly coast-to-coast across the U.S. without using fuel. A trip is planned with the second generation aircraft, HB-SIB, to circumnavigate the globe in 2015.