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Solar Impulse plane ends transcontinental tour in New York

A solar-powered aircraft has completed the final leg of its cross-country journey across the United States, after taking off from California in May. The revolutionary plane is powered by thousands of solar cells.

The experimental Solar Impulse plane, powered by about 11,000 solar cells, completed a transcontinental trip across the United States Saturday evening.

Arriving from Dulles International Airport, the plane touched down at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York at 11:09 p.m. local time, completing the final leg of a journey that started in San Francisco in early May.

The only glitch during the journey was a rip that developed in the fabric of one wings. However, the condition of the aircraft was declared sufficiently stable to continue and the pilot was not in danger.

Despite the malfunction, Swiss pilot Andre Borschberg trumpeted the success of the project.

"It was a huge success for renewable energy," Borschberg said upon arriving at JFK.

Borschberg was met on the tarmac by his compatriot and fellow Swiss pilot Bertrand Piccard, both of whom took turns flying the craft across the country.     

"It was supposed to be the shortest and easiest leg," added Piccard, "but it was the most difficult."

"I'm extremely happy to be here," Borschberg told reporters upon landing. "Every moment is a discovery, an exploration. It's not only about technology, it's about what it means."

The plane runs on four electric propellers powered by solar cells mounted on its 206 foot (63 meter) wingspan. It flies to 30,000 feet (9,144 meters) at a speed of 45 mph (72 kph). Weighing about the size of a small car, it has only the power of a small motorized scooter.

The coast-to-coast US journey made stops in Arizona, Texas, Missouri, Ohio and the capital, Washington.                

The plane's American trip is just the latest in a series of groundbreaking flights. The plane has also done tests flights across parts of Europe. The two pilots are planning a round the world flight in a two-seater solar aircraft in 2015.

hc/kms (AP, AFP)