Solar airplane lands in New York, ends US trip

NEW YORK CITY (AFP) - The experimental Solar Impulse plane, powered by the sun, completed a transcontinental trip across the United States late Saturday, touching down in New York despite a rip in the fabric of one wing.

The giant, single-person plane landed at New York's John F Kennedy airport at 2311 GMT, ahead of its originally scheduled time due to a 2.5-metre-long tear that appeared on the fabric of the lower side of the left wing.

Swiss pilot Andre Borschberg was met on the tarmac by his compatriot and fellow pilot Bertrand Piccard, and the two posed triumphantly for pictures.

The two men took turns flying the spindly, long-winged plane across the country. The Solar Impulse, which runs on four electric propellers powered by an array of solar cells mounted on the plane's 63-metre-wingspan, had lifted off just before dawn on Saturday from Washington Dulles International Airport.

"I'm extremely happy to be here," Borschberg told reporters upon landing.

"Every moment is a discovery, an exploration. It's not only about technology, it's about what it means."

"It was supposed to be the shortest and easiest leg," added Piccard, "but it was the most difficult." Piccard said they have mixed feelings about the end of their long trip.

"Normally you feel a bit sad and nostalgic, but with the problem with the wing we feel relieved," he said.

The coast-to-coast US journey began on May 3, near San Francisco, California. The plane then landed in Phoenix (Arizona), Dallas/Fort Worth (Texas), St. Louis (Missouri), Cincinnati (Ohio) and the capital, Washington.

Borschberg was forced to pass the hours Saturday by circling over the Atlantic not far from the "Big Apple," before being allowed to fly over the city in the evening, due to heavy air traffic.

The plane's American trip is just the latest in a series of groundbreaking flights across different parts of the world, including Europe and Africa.