Advances in Solar-Powered Flight

August 13, 2013 by  
Filed under Features

The extent to which solar cell and battery technology has advanced was well demonstrated by the aircraft, Solar Impulse, which recently flew across America powered entirely by sunlight. The airplane used monocrystalline silicon solar cells, chosen for their ratio of efficiency to weight, to capture solar energy and convert it into electrical power. While solar-powered planes will not be replacing conventional aircraft for the foreseeable future, the advances in technology are noteworthy and valuable to other alternative energy applications.

The Solar Impulse has a wingspan of more than 63 meters, but only weighs 1,600kg. These long wings serve two main purposes – providing lift and, along with the tail, providing 200 square meters of surface area for the huge number of solar cells needed to harness the power of the sun. These solar cells are the lightest in weight and thinnest (135 microns) silicon photovoltaics, but they still account for up to twenty-five percent of the Solar Impulse’s mass. During the hours of the day when sunshine is at its strongest, the solar cells enable the aircraft to charge its batteries while climbing to its peak altitude of 9,000 meters. Because the airplane is shaped like a glider, when the sun is no longer providing power, the pilots are able to shut the engines off and glide, sometimes for several hours, before switching over to using energy stored in the batteries. The Solar Impulse has managed to stay airborne for 26 hours using this method.

In addition to the flight across America, from San Francisco to New York, the Solar Impulse has also completed flights in Europe and from Europe to North Africa. The next goal is a trip around the world, but as pilot André Borscheberg notes, while technology is able to sustain 24 hours flights, the pilot is not. There is only space for one pilot in the current aircraft, with very little room to move about and next to no room for essential equipment such as a parachute and oxygen. To make a trip around the world, the aircraft will need to be larger in order to allow the pilot space to move around and catch some sleep. No doubt these, and other, obstacles will be overcome as technology keeps advancing.

Solar-Powered Plane Sets New Record

August 26, 2008 by  
Filed under Features

The new record may be unofficial but it is definitely legitimate: a British-built spy plane has set a new precedent for the longest continuous unmanned flight when it stayed aloft for 82 hours and 37 minutes. In doing so it crushed the old record of 30 hours and 24 minutes. The old record remains the official current world record for unmanned flight and was set by Global Hawk in 2001.

Read more

Sky-Sailor Aims For Mars

June 25, 2008 by  
Filed under Features

The solar-powered aircraft, known as Sky-Sailor, recently set a world record for endurance by flying non-stop from Zurich to London. The autonomously controlled aircraft completed the 874.4 kilometer journey in just over 27 hours, maintaining an altitude of between 200 and 400 meters.

Read more

Odysseus Unmanned Aircraft Revealed by Aurora

April 23, 2008 by  
Filed under Features

Aurora Flight Sciences recently revealed the details of its new solar-powered airplane at the Boston Museum of Science. Called Odysseus, the radical new aircraft is not only unmanned, but it can stay aloft for up to five years. Aurora has been working in conjunction with its partners Sierra Nevada, Draper Laboratory and BAE Systems.

Read more

Solar Impulse – Technology Shines Bright

March 3, 2008 by  
Filed under Features

It takes dedication, a passion for aviation and unwavering determination to turn a dream into reality. The vision that both Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg share does not enter unexplored territory, but seeks to improve on a concept that was first experimented with in the 1970’s. Piccard and Borschberg took the knowledge and lessons learnt from the first solar powered aircraft, such as the Solar Challenger, Solair 1, Sunseeker, Icare 2 and the Helios, to the create the Solar Impulse project.

Read more