Solar-powered plane nears Hawaii in record-setting flight

The Solar Impulse 2, the sun-powered plane attempting to fly around the world, is scheduled to land late Thursday or early Friday in Hawaii after an arduous five-day flight across the Pacific from Japan.

At four days and counting, the plane and its pilot André Borschberg have now set records for longest solo flight and longest solar-powered flight in terms of time, the Solar Impulse team reported Thursday.

This is the eighth leg of the plane’s expected 13-leg flight around the globe. As of Thursday morning ET, the mission estimated that the plane had completed roughly 80% of the journey.

Solo-piloted by Swiss adventurer and plane co-owner Borschberg, the plane took off from Japan early Monday. Borschberg, in a tweet Thursday from his cramped cockpit, reported the flight was challenging: “I’m fighting, it’s difficult… Managing energy level is not easy. I have to find a hole in the cold front.”

The plane must find clear skies during the day to receive as much solar energy as possible. At night, running on batteries fueled during the day, the plane descends to a lower altitude and slows speed to conserve energy.

Borschberg’s only rest has been occasional 20-minute naps. The plane is slated to land at Kalaeloa Airport in Honolulu.

“The first 24 hours were very technical,” Borschberg said in a statement, “but the second day was really getting me into the mission. It took me a while to create a relationship of trust with the airplane, which allows me to rest and eventually sleep by periods of 20 minutes with the autopilot.”

“The experience of flight is so intense that I can only focus on the present moment and discover how to deal with my own energy and mindset,” he said.

Solar Impulse mission control is in Monaco, where a team of meteorologists, flight engineers and other experts closely track and monitor the weather and flight conditions.

The mission began March 9 with a flight from Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, to Muscat, Oman. Pilots Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard have alternated the legs of the journey.

If the plane’s flight to Hawaii is successful, Bertrand will then continue the ocean crossing to Phoenix as weather permits.

From there, Solar Impulse will land at a location in the Midwest, then in New York City. It will undertake two final flights over the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea before landing back at Abu Dhabi. – USA Today

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