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Solar airplane to fly across U.S.

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MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. -- A solar-powered plane that has wowed aviation fans in Europe is set to travel across the United States, with stops in Phoenix, Dallas, Washington, D.C., and New York, organizers of the trip announced Thursday.

The plane, Solar Impulse, is expected to be ready to leave from the San Francisco Bay Area on May 1, although the actual departure will depend on the weather, the plane's Swiss creators said at a news conference at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif. Each of the stops will last a week to 10 days.

"We want to inspire the young generation to become pioneers, to help them find and develop their passion," Andre Borschberg, one of the plane's creators, said.

The Solar Impulse is powered by about 12,000 photovoltaic cells that cover massive wings and charge its batteries, allowing it to fly day and night without jet fuel. It has the wing span of a commercial airplane but the weight of the average family car, making it vulnerable to bad weather.

Its creators say the Solar Impulse is designed to showcase the potential of solar power and will never replace fuel-powered commercial flights. The delicate, single-seat plane cruises around 64 kilometres an hour and can't fly through clouds.

In 2010, the solar plane flew non-stop for 26 hours to demonstrate that the aircraft could soak up enough sunlight to keep it airborne through the night. A year later, it went on its first international flight to Belgium and France. Last year, the Solar Impulse made its first transcontinental voyage, travelling 2,495 kilometres from Madrid to the Moroccan capital Rabat in 20 hours.

Before its coast-to-coast American trip, the Solar Impulse will take test flights around the San Francisco Bay Area in April, officials said.

Bertrand Piccard, the plane's other creator, and Borschberg are planning an around-the-world flight in an improved version of the plane in 2015.

Piccard comes from a line of adventurers. His late father, Jacques, was an oceanographer and engineer who plunged deeper into the ocean than any other person. His grandfather, Auguste, also an engineer, was the first man to take a balloon into the stratosphere.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 30, 2013 B17

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