Former Swiss fighter jet pilot André Borschberg completed a record-setting flight Thursday morning, May 23. And it did it at a snail's pace.
You see, Borschberg is retired, and he now spends his time flying a new type of plane: Solar Impulse's solar-powered plane. It's a unique aircraft with the wingspan of a Boeing 747, but has only enough room for one pilot.
The aircraft, according to a report by Wired, set a record flight this week by flying 950 miles on nothing but the energy produced by 12,000 photovoltaic cells placed across the aircraft's carbon fiber body. Those cells power four 10-horsepower electric motors and fuel batteries which power the plane at night. The craft cruises at about 30 miles an hour to optimize the airplane's range.
Solar Impulse's goal is to fly the plane across the U.S., and it's being broken up into more manageable chunks. The cross-continental journey will allow the team to gather crucial data on how solar-powered electric aircraft handle. Data which will likely be folded into the team's ultimate goal: circumnavigating the globe in 2015.
And Borschberg's journey provided a lot of valuable data on how to fly the aircraft in adverse weather. He also provided data on, of all things, flying backwards relative to the ground.
One of the larger problems facing Solar Impulse's journey is the concept of headwind –– when wind flowing in directly the opposite direction the plane is heading. On most cases this simply lengthens flight time, but in Borschberg's case the headwinds were strong enough to overcome the plane's forward motion and cause the electric craft to move backwards relative to the ground.
Adding to the flight's woes is the fact that winds at Dallas can be speedy. If Borchberg overshot his landing, he'd have to fight his way back through 25-30 knot winds for another approach. Fortunately, an unorthodox landing kept that from happening.
"We knew it was going to be difficult, but that's how we learn," Borschberg said to NBC News.
Total flight time for Borschberg: 18 hours and 21 minutes. A car would've gotten him there in 16.