Solar plane lands in Hawaii, ending perilous leg of around-the-world journey

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KALAELOA, Hawaii — The experimental solar-powered plane Solar Impulse 2 landed Friday morning in Hawaii, ending a nearly five-day, 5,100-mile flight from Japan — the longest and most dangerous leg in an attempt to fly around the world without a drop of fuel.

The leg set a record for the world’s longest solo flight in terms of time, organizers said.

After weeks of weather delays, pilot André Borschberg set off Sunday from Japan on the journey across the Pacific Ocean.

The plane touched down about 10 a.m. MDT after some 120 hours in the air, running on solar power only.

The aircraft was in a holding pattern, according to the Solar Impulse team’s Twitter feed, which described seeing the first glimpse of the plane’s landing lights in the skies above Hawaii as a “very emotional moment.”

Borschberg’s family and co-pilot Bertrand Piccard were among those to greet him at Kalaeloa Airport, on the island of Oahu, for the plane’s arrival.

The Solar Impulse team said it scheduled the journey, which began in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, in March and was meant to end by July, to maximize the amount of daylight.

This is key because the top of the plane’s wings and fuselage are covered with more than 17,000 solar cells. Gathering the sun’s rays during the day allows the Solar Impulse to fly continuously through the night on battery power, typically at a speed no faster than a car.

The official website offers a live video feed from the cockpit.

If he succeeds, Borschberg — and his partner Piccard, who has been sharing flying duties along the route — will be the first aviators in history to fly a plane around the world powered only by solar energy.

Posting on his own Twitter feed, Borschberg reflected on the challenges of the latest solo leg.

“During the fourth day I felt very tired, having climbed the equivalent altitude of Mount Everest four times,” he said, adding that it was hard to keep his energy in balance with that of the plane.