Solar plane nears end of most perilous leg of around-the-world journey

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Update: The experimental solar-powered plane Solar Impulse 2 has landed in Hawaii, ending a nearly five-day, 8,200-kilometer flight from Japan — the longest and most dangerous leg in an attempt to fly around the world without a drop of fuel.

Original story: The most perilous phase of a historic solar-powered flight should come to an end Friday — that is, if the Solar Impulse 2, the experimental plane attempting to fly around the world without a single drop of fuel, manages to land safely in Hawaii.

After weeks of weather delays, pilot Andre Borschberg set off Sunday from Japan on a journey of more than 5,000 miles (8,000 kilometers) across the Pacific Ocean.

If all goes to plan, the aircraft is expected to touch down about noon ET in Hawaii after some 120 hours in the air, running on solar power only.

According to the Solar Impulse team’s Twitter feed, the plane has left a rain shower behind, and “weather conditions should be good for the landing.”

An earlier post said “tension is growing” as the aircraft approaches its destination and the ground crew readies for its arrival.

The Solar Impulse team says 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 Bertrand Piccard, who’s 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 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.

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