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Solar plane completes trip across the US

Solar Impulse pilots Bertrand Piccard (left) Andre Borschberg after landing in New York City.

AFP/Getty Imsages

Solar Impulse pilots Bertrand Piccard (left) Andre Borschberg after landing in New York City.

NEW YORK— A solar-powered aircraft completed the final leg of a history-making cross-country trip on Saturday night, gliding to a smooth stop at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.

The Solar Impulse touched down at JFK at 11:09 p.m., completing the final leg of the cross-continental journey that started in California in early May. For Saturday’s final leg, the aircraft left Dulles International Airport a little before 5 a.m.

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The flight plan for the revolutionary plane, powered by some 11,000 solar cells on its oversized wings, had called for it to pass the Statue of Liberty before landing early Sunday at New York. But an unexpected tear discovered on the left wing of the aircraft Saturday afternoon forced officials to scuttle the fly-by and proceed directly to JFK for a landing three hours earlier than scheduled.

Pilot Andre Borschberg trumpeted the milestone of a plane capable of flying during the day and night, powered by solar energy, crossing the nation without the use of fuel.

‘‘It was a huge success for renewable energy,’’ Borschberg said while standing in front of the plane on the runway at JFK. ‘‘The only thing that failed was a piece of fabric.’’

Bertrand Piccard, the other pilot who took turns flying the Solar Impulse across the United States, said the flight across the country tested the entire project team.

‘‘Flying coast-to-coast has always been a mythical milestone full of challenges for aviation pioneers,’’ Piccard said.

The aircraft soars to 30,000 feet while poking along at a top speed of 45 miles per hour. Most of the 11,000 solar cells are on the super-long wings.

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