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Solar-powered aircraft wraps up its cross-country flight

A solar-powered plane began its cross-country trip May 3 in San Francisco. It travels at a top speed of 45 miles per hour.

Matt York/Associated PRESS/file

A solar-powered plane began its cross-country trip May 3 in San Francisco. It travels at a top speed of 45 miles per hour.

WASHINGTON — A solar-powered aircraft lifted off from a suburban Washington airport before dawn Saturday, embarking on the final leg of a history-making cross-country flight.

The Solar Impulse left Dulles International Airport a little before 5 a.m. en route to New York City. The flight plan called for it to land at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport late Saturday.

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A tear found on the plane’s left wing Saturday forced the plane to land earlier than scheduled — but the pilot and aircraft do not appear to be in danger, officials said.

The pilot noticed balance problems with the wing in the early afternoon off the coast of Toms River, N.J., said spokeswoman Alenka Zibetto.

The flight, which had been slated to take a pass by the Statue of Liberty before landing at JFK early Sunday, was heading straight to the airport and was expected to land before midnight Saturday.

Officials did not expect the 8-foot tear on the fabric of the lower side of the left wing to worsen.

‘‘This is a leg where everybody is quite moved,’’ Bertrand Piccard, one of two pilots who took turns flying the plane across the nation, said after the craft was in the air. Andre Borschberg piloted the final leg.

Despite the relatively short distance, the last leg was to be a long flight. The slow-flying aircraft was traveling between two of the world’s busiest airports and was required to take off very early in the morning and land very late at night, when air traffic is at a minimum.

The cross-country flight is a tuneup for a planned 2015 flight around the world with an upgraded version of the plane.

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