Solar Plane Takes Off on Last Leg of Historic Cross-Country Flight

Solar Impulse Over California Runway
Solar Impulse flies over the runway at Moffett Airfield in California shortly after takeoff on May 3, 2013. (Image credit: Solar Impulse)

A solar-powered airplane is poised to complete an historic cross-country flight across the United States this weekend, after taking off on the last leg of its journey this morning (July 6) from Washington, D.C.

The plane, called Solar Impulse, departed Washington Dulles International Airport at 4:46 a.m. EDT today, and is expected to reach New York City early Sunday (July 7), at 2 a.m. EDT, after approximately 21 hours in the air. The aircraft is scheduled to land at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

After taking off from the nation's capital, Solar Impulse will cross the Chesapeake Bay, which surrounds Virginia and Maryland, and will follow the Atlantic Coast toward Atlantic City, N.J., at an average cruising altitude of 8,000 feet (2,440 meters), according to company officials. As the plane approaches New York City, it will fly over the Verrazano Bridge, which links the boroughs of Staten Island and Brooklyn, and pass by the iconic Statue of Liberty. [Images: Cross-Country Flight in a Solar-Powered Plane]

Each leg of Solar Impulse's flight is being streamed live online, where up-to-date information on the aircraft's position, altitude and speed will be featured. The live feed also includes views inside the airplane's cockpit, and from Solar Impulse's mission control center in Switzerland.

Solar Impulse is also hosting a Google Hangout during the flight, with a number of participants, including Erik Lindbergh, the grandson of famed aviator Charles Lindbergh.

This is the fifth and last leg of Solar Impulse's cross-country journey, which began May 3 near San Francisco, Calif. Since then, the solar-powered aircraft has made stops in Phoenix, Dallas, St. Louis, Cincinnati and Washington, D.C.

Solar Impulse is the first airplane capable of flying day and night without using any fuel. The plane is powered entirely by solar panels and batteries, and generates roughly the same amount of power as a small scooter, company officials have said.

Solar Impulse co-founder and Swiss pilot André Borschberg is piloting the plane on the final leg of its journey. Borschberg and Solar Impulse's other co-founder, Bertrand Piccard, have alternated flying the single-seater plane on the coast-to-coast trip.

After landing in New York City, Solar Impulse officials will host a news conference on Monday (July 8) at John F. Kennedy International Airport. During their stay in the "Big Apple," Borschberg and Piccard are also expected to participate in a NASDAQ Opening Bell Ceremony in Times Square and will meet with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon on Tuesday (July 9).

Solar Impulse's record-setting cross-country journey is part of an initiative called "Clean Generation," which aims to promote clean technologies and sustainable energy solutions.

In Washington, D.C., Solar Impulse presented the Clean Generation goals to key decision makers at the White House and Capitol Hill, including Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz.

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Denise Chow
Live Science Contributor

Denise Chow was the assistant managing editor at Live Science before moving to NBC News as a science reporter, where she focuses on general science and climate change. Before joining the Live Science team in 2013, she spent two years as a staff writer for, writing about rocket launches and covering NASA's final three space shuttle missions. A Canadian transplant, Denise has a bachelor's degree from the University of Toronto, and a master's degree in journalism from New York University.