Whether Atlanta will be a stop on the path of the first transcontinental flight across the United States by a solar plane will be decided by “four determining factors,” according to Claudio Leoncavallo, the Swiss consul general based in Atlanta.
Mr. Leoncavallo cited the following determinants in an email to Global Atlanta: an appropriate hangar large enough to accommodate the wingspan of the plane, weather patterns, interest and support from local authorities and sponsors, and visibility and public relations.
The plane Solar Impulse is to leave from the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif. bound for Washington on May 1 depending on the weather, the plane’s Swiss developers announced in March.
“A representative of SI (Solar Impulse) was in Atlanta last week and met with the airport and city representatives,” Mr Leoncavallo said on April 9. “They had a productive meeting and both sides showed great interest in working together.”
He added, however, that the SI representatives traveled to Nashville, Tenn., and St. Louis for similar meetings with local representatives.
“I assume that a decision regarding a landing site in this part of the country will be made soon and I certainly hope that Atlanta will be their choice,” he also said.
“ATL would be honored to be a part of this historic and scientifically important flight, “ said Balram “B” Bheodari, deputy general manager for Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. “Officials from Solar Impulse have met with us to review the requirements necessary to handle the aircraft. We provided the details they requested, and we’re now awaiting their response.”
The Solar Impulse is considered the world’s most advanced solar-powered aircraft, and is scheduled to stop for seven or 10 days at major airports across the country after taking test flights around the San Francisco Bay Area.
The plane is powered by 12,000 photovoltaic cells that allow it to fly without jet fuel. It has the wingspan of 208 feet, similar to that of the Airbus A340, but is relatively light at 3,527 pounds, similar to a small car.
It is the world’s first plane to fly both day and night without fuel using 10-horsepower engines at an average speed of about 40 miles per hour. Last year it completed its first intercontinental flight, traveling 1,550 miles from Madrid to the Moroccan capital of Rabat in 20 hours.
The project is financed by a number of private companies with the four main partners being Deutsche Bank, Omega SA, Solvay and Schindler.
Swiss psychiatrist and aeronaut Bertrand Piccard, who co-piloted the first balloon to circle the world non-stop, and Swiss businessman André Borschberg are manning the flight. They plan an around-the-world flight in an improved version of the plane in 2015.
Dr. Piccard is familiar with Atlanta, which he visited for an event hosted by the Swiss American Chamber of Commerce on Sept. 17, 1999, to give a luncheon address about his around the world balloon flight. Descended from a line of adventurers, his late father, Jacques, was an oceanographer and engineer who explored ocean depths and his grandfather August was the first man to take a balloon into the stratosphere.