Solar-Powered Airplane Nears End of Cross-Country Flight
Undated (AP) _ It’s lasted more than seven weeks, and drafts sometimes blew it the wrong way, but a 198-pound solar-powered airplane is slowly nearing its destination in Kitty Hawk, N.C., on its experimental flight from California.
″We’re so close, but so far,″ Aida Raymond said Friday after her husband, Eric, had taken off in the Sun Seeker from the New River Valley Airport in Virginia.
″He’s getting desperate to get there. He just wants to finish the flight.″
Strong headwinds have dashed Raymond’s hopes of reaching historic Kitty Hawk during the Labor Day weekend, his wife said. The former national hang gliding champion had logged only 18 miles when he landed at 4 p.m. EDT Friday at Virginia Tech Airport at Blackburg, Va.
Raymond, 33, manufactured and sold hang gliding equipment out of his Lake Elsinore, Calif., shop until about six months ago, when he shut down the business to devote all his energy to designing and building the Sun-Seeker.
Raymond first took off in the Sun Seeker on July 16 from Desert Center, Calif., in a mission to prove an ultralight aircraft partially powered by solar energy could cross the United States.
Rather than set a flying record, Raymond wants to show solar power’s usefulness. The plane has solar cells on its surfaces to run an electrical motor that turns its propeller.
The motor is used for takeoffs and landings. After takeoff, the motor is turned off and the plane rides the thermals like an ultralight glider.
Two days after the sojourn began, the craft was seriously damaged in an aborted takeoff from Lordsburg, N.M. The Sun Seeker, Raymond and his ground crew returned by land to Lake Elsinore for repairs.
The Sun Seeker had better luck after taking off from Desert Center on Aug. 2. Although the craft hasn’t crashed since, strong headwinds and rain have made for slow going.
During its journey, the Sun Seeker has remained grounded on eight days because of bad weather. One day the craft was forced to land after headwinds pushed it backward.
On three days, it was driven in a trailer to another location deemed better for takeoff.
When Raymond took off Friday, he still had 260 miles to get to Kitty Hawk, where in 1903 Orville and Wilbur Wright made the first airplane flight. Raymond already had logged 2,168 miles and 102 hours and 35 minutes in the air.
On Thursday, he flew over the Appalachians, gaining 132 miles before landing about 35 miles west of Roanoke, Va.
″There’s a lot of excitement here,″ said Nancy McWilliams, spokeswoman for Kitty Hawk Kites, a hang glider school planning a reception for Raymond’s arrival. ″It’s been the talk of the town for the last month. Wherever I go, people say, ’Where’s Eric? When’s Eric arriving?‴
″People have been very nice, very friendly, very helpful along the way,″ Mrs. Raymond said. ″They also have been very encouraging and that has helped.
″But we’re going to have to have a second honeymoon after this. It has been so stressful.″