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#futureisclean: Solar Impulse Encounters The Statue Of Liberty

CleanTechnica’s last two articles about the zero-fuel Solar Impulse plane flying around the world described a visit to the plane’s temporary hangar in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania and interviews with the craft’s two Swiss pilot/adventurers, Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg. However, our continuing coverage dates back to 2009. (See the older articles here.)

Avionic systems engineer Mickey Sandone diPasquo and I watched late Friday night from the LV International Airport terminal entrance with a few other onlookers (interestingly, all women), as André Borschberg and his solely solar-powered airplane took off at dusk. I had spoken with him just the day before. To paraphrase, he called the venture “a historic flight, free from the constraints of fossil fuels.”

“Majestic” and “silent” are my words for this takeoff. As if shot from a sling, the revolutionary aircraft rose quickly from the field with no noise at all.

Geophysical and political maps of the Solar Impulse flight from LVIA to New York (solarimpulse.com)In fact, while looking at my app’s photo settings I missed the first 20 or 30 feet of the ascent. One of our fellow onlookers, mother of a senior at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, had seen the test flight take off earlier in the week. She remarked that she thought the wide plane resembled a spacecraft as it climbed through the sky. We agreed.

Geophysical and political maps of the Solar Impulse flight from LVIA to New York (solarimpulse.com)Inspired by Piccard and Borschberg, and flushed and awed by the sight of the Lehigh Valley launch, Mickey and I decided to follow along on the ground as Solar Impulse traversed the night sky toward its last stop in the United States: John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, New York. The plane only goes 28-50 miles per hour, the ideal speed being the slowest, so we figured we had a good chance of getting there on time. More than 17,000 solar cells arrayed on its lightweight, super-strong carbon-fiber wings power its four electric engines.

Solar Impulse is traveling across land and oceans day and night with no liquid or solid fuel — only free and abundant energy from the sun, not a drop of aviation gas — to inspire the world’s public, students, entrepreneurs, and political leaders to spread the #futureisclean message. Through its method of propulsion, extremely lightweight materials, state-of-the-art communications, and other novel features, the voyage demonstrates every day that not only is vast energy change technologically feasible — it can also offer solid returns on investment in the 21st century.

It’s a bold challenge and a meaningful adventure undertaken to encourage people around the world to protect our quality of life by using energy efficiency and renewable energies. It proves that the true future of humankind can be fairer and cleaner with an orderly energy transition.

Solar Impulse world circumnavigation (solarimpulse.com)

To date, the longest record-breaking leg of the journey — over the Pacific in five days and five nights without fuel, from Nagoya, Japan, to Hawaii — has presented a clear message: everyone on the ground can use the plane’s revolutionary clean technologies to cut our world’s energy consumption in half (figure provided by the Solar Impulse team), to save natural resources, and to improve everyone’s quality of life.

We take Route 78 through the darkness, watching the plane until it disappears from sight. The road is a four-lane highway divided by trees and secured by guard rails. We traverse it through the hilly ranges of northern New Jersey, suffer a Garmin goof-up that sends us through urban Jersey City, and abruptly find ourselves driving toward New Jersey’s Liberty State Park, the approach to the national monument.

From the bridge into the park, we get our first glimpse of the illuminated “Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World.” The massive green-patina-ed copper figure was a gift of friendship from the people of France to the United States following the fight for the abolition of slavery during the Civil War. Liberty was dedicated on October 28, 1886, as a universal symbol of freedom and democracy.

Solar Impulse aloft at night (CleanTechnica/Sandy Dechert)Then we see the Verrazano-Narrows bridge in the distance. We look up, and there’s the plane. It is headed directly toward us at about 1500 feet, so at first we think it is standing still. Soon we perceive the graceful motion. A chase helicopter sent up to follow the flight ruins the silence we had perceived when the plane took off from Pennsylvania.

We enter the park, leave the car, and set off on foot over a vast boulevard, seeing glimpses through the trees until we arrive at the walk on the Hudson and can take in the spectacle up close.

Just before 2:00 AM EDT on June 11, 2016, under clear New York skies, Si2 began to circle over New York’s harbor and the Statue. It was a majestic sight. Walking along the river, where wavelets softly lapped in concentric circles up to the shore, we saw the lights of the grandest city in the US, topped by the single spire of the new World Trade Center. The plane continued to rendezvous with the statue. On the 2nd or 3rd pass, I looked at my phone. It was 2:02. Solar Impulse had arrived early.

Solar Impulse over the World Trade Center and Manhattan Island (CleanTechnica/Sandy Dechert)

Solar Impulse over the World Trade Center and Manhattan Island (CleanTechnica/Sandy Dechert)

Anyone who couldn’t make it to New York or neighboring New Jersey could watch images from the plane and its chase helicopter streaming live on the Solar Impulse TV channel at Si.com.

WATCH THE VIEW OF Si2 ENTERING NEW YORK FROM ITS CHASE HELICOPTER HERE.

You may want to tune in to this live TV feature in order to witness Solar Impulse’s upcoming departure from New York over the Atlantic Ocean.

On one revolution as we watched that night, the plane altered its flight path to fly over the just-launched Staten Island ferry. Passengers — in my mind, representing the diverse cultures of the earth that had entered the new nation through neighboring Ellis Island and other ports of call — had a once-in-a-lifetime vision at that time.

We started walking back to the car before Solar Impulse finished its rounds at JFK. Among our fellow good-humored pedestrians, few in number, were a serious young man taking photographs with a SLR camera and long telephoto lens, two late teenage girls battling over a teddy bear, and an immigrant father. In accented American English, he intoned with joy, “History is being made tonight.”

Again, we saw glimpses of the plane and the statue through the lofty trees. While we traveled back to Pennsylvania over the dark highway, Solar Impulse landed at the airport after a low-flying journey of 4 hours 41 minutes. It taxied to Hangar 15 accompanied by fanfare from a cheering crowd. Bertrand joined Andre on the tarmac and the pilots discussed his journey.

WATCH HERE AS CEO/PILOT ANDRE BORSCHBERG AND INVENTOR/PILOT BERTRAND PICCARD DISCUSS THE HISTORY-MAKING FLIGHT ON THE GROUND AFTER BORSCHBERG’S SUCCESSFUL LANDING.

From the online blog of the plane:

“This iconic flight added another building block to the symbol of freedom this monument has been embodying for 130 years. It echoes the risk-taking, the pioneering spirit, the adventure, and the craving for progress of all those brought to her feet who dared to embrace the unknown in search of a brighter future. [The combustion-free airplane] offers new perspectives and inspires new ways of thinking about the world.”

On Monday, Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon and Switzerland’s Deputy Permanent UN Representative Olivier Zehnder greeted the pilots with delight. Said Mr. Ban:

UN leader Ban Ki-Moon meets the SolarImpulse pilots (solarimpulse.com)“I have followed this audacious, historic, and transformative expedition from day one…. As we see before us, innovation and experimentation will help us move into a sustainable future. The science used in this flight can also be put to use here on the ground. The plane’s technologies can help [us to] halve the world’s energy consumption, save natural resources, and improve our quality of life.

Every so often, intrepid pioneers come along who upset the conventional thinking and take us in new directions. The Wright Brothers… Charles Lindbergh… Amelia Earhart… are aviation legends. We can certainly add Bertrand Piccard, André Borschberg, and the the Solar Impulse to that list.”

As Bertrand told me the day before the New York flight, on the following leg of the plane’s historic clean technologies mission he will fly Solar Impulse across the Atlantic to Paris, time and weather permitting, or to another spot eastward between the UK and North Africa. I wish I could follow it as easily as we tracked the flight from the Lehigh Valley to New York. Even though I cannot, my wholehearted aspirations will be accompanying this new, graceful human-made and naturally powered species of bird.

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Written By

covers environmental, health, renewable and conventional energy, and climate change news. She's currently on the climate beat for Important Media, having attended last year's COP20 in Lima Peru. Sandy has also worked for groundbreaking environmental consultants and a Fortune 100 health care firm. She writes for several weblogs and attributes her modest success to an "indelible habit of poking around to satisfy my own curiosity."

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