Hawaii warmly welcomed the record-breaking plane — attempting to fly around the world powered only by the sun — after it successfully landed in Hono¬lulu early Friday morning.
"It's great to be in Hawaii," said Swiss pilot Andre Borschberg after he guided the Solar Impulse 2 to a stop at Kalaeloa Airport in West Oahu at approximately 5:54 a.m.
Landing on Oahu marked the completion of the most dangerous leg of the round-the-world journey, as Borschberg flew across the Pacific for five days nonstop from Nagoya, Japan.
The plane could have landed earlier but circled over Oahu for hours because Borschberg wanted to land at sunrise.
"I asked for it," Borsch¬berg said. "It was very symbolic for us. It made sense. Waiting here was not waiting; it was giving me more time to enjoy what I was doing."
It was amazing to see the shape of the islands slowly appear during sunrise, Borschberg said.
Borschberg set solar aviation records for distance (4,480 miles) and duration (117 hours and 52 minutes) and set the duration record for a solo flight without refueling, the organizers said.
Aviation enthusiasts were waiting outside the airport as early as 2:30 a.m., and the crowd continued to build until about 100 were on hand by the landing. Another 150 invited guests were inside the airport fence.
The event was worth a last-minute trip to Hawaii for Brett Geyer. The Portland, Ore., resident flew to Oahu on Thursday night to watch the landing.
"This is a historic moment, to travel purely on solar energy over the Pacific for five days," Geyer said. "I woke up, and a voice in my head said, ‘Just do it.'"
Ewa Beach resident, Lester Martinez, said he and his son, Lester Jr., wanted to watch history being made in their backyards.
"I told him, ‘This is something you are going to remember one day.' This is the 21st-century event," the elder Martinez said.
Jason Torikawa-Domingo and Sean Rita, former students from Hono¬lulu Aviation, said they had been tracking the flight for days.
"I stayed up two days straight when it diverted to Japan," Rita said.
Weather conditions forced the plane to make an unexpected stop in Nagoya. Solar Impulse 2 was originally set to travel to Hono¬lulu from Nanjing, China. The takeoff from Japan was also delayed twice as the crew waited for favorable weather. The third time was the charm for Solar Impulse 2.
Crowds cheered as Solar Impulse 2 came to a stop, and Borschberg climbed out of the 4-by-61⁄2-foot cockpit that had been his home for five days.
"Incredible," was Borschberg's first word.
Solar Impulse chairman and co-pilot Bertrand Piccard, who is scheduled to fly the plane on its next leg from Hawaii to Phoenix in several days, joined Borschberg in the door of the cockpit.
"I adore him. I was moved, really moved," Piccard said about Borschberg's flight. "It was a big responsibility when he was flying. I was profoundly happy for him."
Piccard presented his proclaimed "solar brother" with a bottle of Champagne.
Despite the long flight, Borschberg said he wasn't exhausted and was eager to continue supporting the solar plane's campaign to promote the power of clean energy technologies.
"Solar Impulse is a way to demonstrate that clean technology can achieve the impossible," Piccard said.
Borschberg also wants to enjoy Hawaii and said he plans to get on a surfboard at some point during his stay.
"We have some work to do, as I'm sure other people will be interested to see the update and discuss these technologies," he said. "But there is no way that we shouldn't try surfing."
Hula dancers from Island Pacific Academy welcomed the pilot with a song as lawmakers and Polynesian Voyaging Society's Nainoa Thompson climbed up to the cockpit to welcome Borschberg to Oahu.
State Sen. Mike Gabbard (D, Kapolei-Makakilo) asked the crowd to "show some aloha" to the Swiss explorers. The crowd obliged, cheering "aloha."
The Hawaii Pa‘u Riders Association of Cook's Ranch in Waimanalo presented a giant lei to the pilots and plane.
International news organizations, national news services and local media outlets were at the scene to document the historic landing.
Gov. David Ige congratulated Borschberg and the Solar Impulse 2 team at an 11:30 a.m. ceremony at the University of Hawaii hangar where the solar plane is parked.
"We truly believe in a renewable future," Ige said. "Here in Hawaii we have made a commitment to renewable energy unlike any other state in the country. Andre and Bertrand, you are an inspiration to us, believing in an idea with huge challenges."
Piccard told Ige at the event that the state's goals were attractive to the pilot.
"I heard Hawaii wanted to have 100 percent renewable energy by 2045, and I said, ‘That's the place to be,'" Piccard said.
Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell declared Friday "Solar Impulse Day" for the city and county. "Today, July 3, is another declaration of independence, free of fossil fuel," Caldwell said.
Borschberg thanked his team in Honolulu and the team at the Mission Control Center in Monaco.
"This flight would not have been possible without a lot of people," he said.
About 50 engineers and technicians, 80 technological partners and more than 100 advisers and suppliers contributed to the prototype and the final plane. The flight is supported by 90 sponsors.
The sun is the only source of energy for the carbon-fiber aircraft. The Solar Impulse 2's 236-foot wingspan — equivalent to a commercial airliner's — was built with more than 17,000 solar cells, four electric motors and lithium batteries replacing the need for fuel.
Hawaii is the first of four U.S. destinations for the plane. After Phoenix it will make an as-yet-undetermined stop in the Midwest, followed by a landing in New York.
Since leaving Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, in March, the plane has traveled to Muscat, Oman; Ahmedabad and Varanasi, India; Mandalay, Myanmar; Chongqing and Nanjing, China; and Nagoya.