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Solar plane leaving U.S. for Europe after yearlong stay

After a yearlong stay in the U.S., Solar Impulse 2, a Swiss solar-powered plane circling the world is set to depart from New York early Monday morning to cross the Atlantic Ocean to head for Spain.

The plane landed in Hawaii from Japan nearly one year ago, on July 3. Since then, Solar Impulse 2 has flown across the country, making stops in California, Arizona, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania. On June 11, it made a 4-hour and 41-minute flight from Pennsylvania to New York, its last stop in the U.S.. The plane is scheduled to make its exit from John F. Kennedy International Airport at 2 a.m.

Bertrand Piccard, who alternates flying the single-seat plane with Andre Borschberg, is piloting the next leg to Seville, Spain, in the mission’s fifteenth flight. The two pilots and explorers founded the project in hopes to create the world’s largest solar plane and promote sustainable energy. With a wingspan of 72 meters, it’s as many as 12 meters wider than a Boeing 747 and holds 17,248 solar cells that power its propellers and charge its batteries, enabling uninterrupted multi-day flights.

Video edited by Andi Wang.

The pair began their journey across the globe on March 9, 2015, flying from Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, to Muscat, Oman. When they flew from Japan to Hawaii, the plane was on its eighth leg and the flight lasted nearly five days, but its batteries sustained heat damage. After undergoing repairs and waiting in Oahu for almost 10 months, the plane resumed flight on April 21, 2016.

Despite the delay, its completion represented a historic moment: during the trip, Borschberg broke the record for the longest solo flight, also setting records for distance and duration of travel by a solar plane.

Before Borschberg’s departure from Japan, Piccard noted the gravity of the moment.

“You carry the dreams that we have been building together,” he said at Solar Impulse’s Mission Control Center in Monaco. “You are taking this dream of an airplane that’s going to fly day and night, with no fuel at all, showing to the world what is possible to do with clean technologies.”

Bertrand Piccard (L) celebrates with Andre Borschberg after the Solar Impulse 2 airplane, piloted by Borschberg, landed at Kalaeloa airport after flying non-stop from Nagoya, Japan, in Kapolei, Hawaii, July 3, 2015. The aircraft, powered only by the sun's energy and piloted alternatively by Swiss explorers Borschberg and Piccard, has broken a world record for the longest non-stop solo flight, the project team said on Thursday. REUTERS/Hugh Gentry TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTX1IXJK

Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg celebrate after Solar Impulse 2 lands at Kalaeloa airport, completing the flight from Nagoya, Japan. Photo by Hugh Gentry/Reuters

Throughout the plane’s flight, Piccard has used social media and interviews to promote its potential.

“Today, liberty is about finding and promoting renewable sources of power,” Piccard told the Associated Press after flying into New York with a sweeping view of the Statue of Liberty.

The project’s origins date back to 1999, when Piccard and a partner became the first to fly a balloon around the world. In 2010, the Solar Impulse team achieved a milestone when Borschberg successfully completed the first solar night flight.

Solar Impulse 2 flies above Abu Dhabi during a test flight in February 2015. Photo by Solar Impulse

Solar Impulse 2 flies above Abu Dhabi during a test flight in February 2015. Photo by Solar Impulse

After reuniting in Seville and analyzing weather conditions, the pilots will continue their voyage back to Abu Dhabi, where they can celebrate the completion of their journey.

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