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Solar Powered Plane Pays a Visit In Va.

4:15 PM, Jun 17, 2013   |    comments
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DULLES INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT (WUSA9) -- Just after midnight on Sunday, Twitter lit up with reports of a UFO over Northern Virginia. Turns out, it was only pilot Bertrand Piccard flashing his lights as he landed the Solar Impulse at Dulles Airport.

"I did it on purpose. I wanted people to know that the Solar Impulse was landing!" said Piccard on Monday at the Solar Impulse's temporary home, the Smithsonian's Udvar-Hazy Center.

The Solar Impulse is the first airplane ever built that can fly day and night without a drop of fuel. It has the wingspan of a 747, but the weight of a small car.

"It is just gorgeous to fly in an airplane that makes no noise. The more you fly the more energy it has," said Piccard.

The Solar Impulse has no backup fuel system. It can only be powered by sunlight, which is captured by 12,000 solar cells mounted on the plane's massive wings.

"We want to be absolutely pure. There is not a single drop of fuel, no thermal engine in the airplane," said Piccard.

"The airplane is fully sustainable. The weak point is us," said Andre Borschberg, Solar Impulse's only other pilot.

The only reason the plane ever has to land is because the pilots need a break. The plane is so light that there's only room for one pilot on board at a time.

This plane is the brainchild of Borschberg and Piccard. The Solar Impulse was built in Switzerland, but it's currently on a coast-to-coast tour of the United States.

"After nine months of preparation and two months of flight mission from California to here, I think the most exciting moment was to be able to present our solar power airplane to the Secretary of Energy here in Washington," said Piccard. "Our goal is not to make a revolution in air transport. Our goal is to make a revolution in the mindset of the people when they think about energy, clean technologies, and the future of the quality of life on this planet."

The Solar Impulse will be at the Smithsonian's Udvar-Hazy Center in Dulles until early July, when the plane will take off on its final flight in the U.S. to New York City.

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