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Piloted Solar Plane Lands in Hawaii after Record-Breaking Flight

A plane powered by the sun's rays has landed in Hawaii after a record-breaking five-day journey across the Pacific Ocean from Japan. Associated Press
A plane powered by the sun's rays has landed in Hawaii after a record-breaking five-day journey across the Pacific Ocean from Japan. Associated Press

KAPOLEI, Hawaii — A plane powered by the sun's rays has landed in Hawaii Friday after a record-breaking five-day journey across the Pacific Ocean from Japan.

Pilot Andre Borschberg and his single-seat solar aircraft arrived Friday at Kalaeloa, a small airport outside Honolulu after taking off from Nagoya about 120 hours earlier.

His team says his trip broke the record for the world's longest nonstop solo flight. The late U.S. adventurer Steve Fossett set the previous record of 76 hours.

But the Solar Impulse 2 is flying without fuel. Instead, it's 17,000 solar cells charge batteries. The plane runs on stored energy at night.

Borschberg and co-pilot Bertrand Piccard have been taking turns flying the plane on an around-the-world voyage since taking off from Abu Dhabi in March. After Hawaii, it will head to Phoenix.

The flight is the longest leg of an around-the-world voyage planned by two Swiss pilots who have been taking turns flying the single-seat airplane. It is also the riskiest because the plane has nowhere to land in an emergency.

"Can you imagine that a solar-powered airplane without fuel can now fly longer than a jet plane?" Bertrand Piccard, the aircraft's other pilot, said in a statement. "This is a clear message that clean technologies can achieve impossible goals."

The plane is visiting Hawaii just as the state has embarked on its own ambitious clean energy project. Gov. David Ige last month signed legislation directing the state's utilities to generate 100 percent of their electricity from renewable energy resources by 2045. Hawaii's utilities currently get 21 percent of their power from renewable sources.

Its next destination after leaving the islands is Phoenix, but the departure date hasn't been announced.

The plane began its global voyage in abu Dhabi in March. It has stopped in Oman, India, Myanmar, China and Japan in the months since.

The wings of the carbon fiber aircraft have more than 17,000 solar cells. The plane flies up to about 28,000 feet during the day to recharge its batteries while descending to under 10,000 feet at night to minimize power consumption.

Bad weather is a challenge because the plane isn't designed to withstand rain, turbulence and heavy winds. Diverting around clouds takes extra energy.

The aircraft travels at about the same speeds as an automobile.

The pilots aim to demonstrate the potential of energy efficiency and renewable power with the project. Solar-powered air travel is not yet commercially practical though, given the slow travel time, weather and weight constraints of the aircraft.

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