From Roosevelt Field to JFK: New York’s Aviation Story Continues with Arrival of the Solar Impulse — Episode One in a Three-Part Miniseries

By Gregory Quinn, Special to the Port Authority

 Cheryl Albiez, Sr. Public Information Officer, contributed to this post

By the time Charles Lindbergh took off in his Spirit of St. Louis on the morning of May 20, 1927, six aviators had already lost their lives in their pursuit of the Orteig Prize—a $25,000 award to be given to the first pilot to make a non-stop flight across the Atlantic.

The audaciousness and historic consequence of the pursuit captivated the world; when Lindbergh touched down in Paris nearly 34 hours later and won the elusive award, he instantly became one of the most famous men on the planet. His flight remains, with the notable exception of the Wright Brothers inaugural flight at Kitty Hawk, the most iconic moment in aviation history. And it all started on Roosevelt Field within 15 miles or so of what eventually became John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Nearly nine decades later and 15 miles west, another historic moment-in-flight is revolving around New York—though this time the famous location is Kennedy Airport, operated by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Solar Impulse 2—an aircraft built, financed and flown by Swiss pilots and businessmen Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg  – is soon to land at JFK on its journey to become the first entirely solar-powered aircraft to circumnavigate the globe. That’s nearly 25,000 miles with nary a drop of fuel.

The journey of Solar Impulse 2 began in early March at Al Bateen Airport in Abu Dhabi, and it will end there in late July or early August. The plane already has stopped  in Oman, Myanmar, China and Japan, and is poised to travel onward to Hawaii and  to and across the United States, before crossing the Atlantic Ocean.  All told, the Solar Impulse 2 will make ten stops worldwide over the course of its roughly five-month journey.

But the plane’s layover at JFK is special for another reason, as it marks a reunion of sorts: In 2013, Solar Impulse 2’s predecessor, Solar Impulse 1, landed at JFK, ending the first solar-powered coast-to-coast flight across the United States.  Solar Impulse flights continue the proud tradition of historic aviation milestones in New York and JFK Airport in particular.

In early 2013, JFK was the airport of choice for the first series of transatlantic flights by aircrafts powered in part by advanced aviation bio-fuels made from cooking oil. Aircrafts such as these and the Solar Impulse 2 offer a potential window into the future of flight; as the world moves slowly yet inexorably away from its dependence on fossil fuels, alternate means of travel must be cultivated, tested and perfected.

When Solar Impulse 2 lands at JFK in the coming weeks, and then ultimately back in Abu Dhabi, the fanfare probably won’t match the mobs of elated onlookers that greeted Lindbergh in Paris. Yet the moment is also important in the continuing history of man at flight, with Solar Impulse 2 offering us an inside look at the potential future of commercial aviation.

Tomorrow – Part 2:  The Dream of Perpetual Flight  

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