The United States Navy is about to obliterate many of the time restrictions for “flying the friendly skies”. A U.S. – Spanish aerospace company, through a $5 million military contract, is close to releasing an unpiloted aircraft that runs on solar power.
Skydweller Aero is using concepts from a test aircraft that used Solar Impulse 2 technology. That solar-powered aircraft was able to fly around the world. This successful use of solar technology to operate an aircraft happened in 2015-16.
Since then, the capabilities have been expanded dramatically. Most of the initial solar-powered aircraft still required a pilot. The newest version will not. That isn’t even the most interesting feature of this new plane.
This aircraft will be able to fly non-stop for 90 days at a time. Obviously, this would be a huge development for military purposes. It could eventually have private airline ramifications as well. The wingspan of the Skydweller aircraft is 236 feet.
The wings are fitted with more than 2,900 square feet of photovoltaic cells. These solar cells will provide over two kilowatts of power. This extended flight capability would not only make the aircraft valuable to the U.S. Navy, but it would also have other practical benefits.
These planes could assist with various telecommunications endeavors and provide geospatial monitoring. The aircraft would be excellent for data collection, weather forecasting, and emergency operations. One key benefit for the military would be the aircraft’s surveillance capabilities.
The massive drone is currently being tested with physical pilots on board. Skydweller Aero CEO Robert Miller says that the revamped Solar Impulse test aircraft will soon undergo unmanned tests. A release of the prototype to the U.S. Navy will be forthcoming if these prove successful.
While it may be years before this technology is expanded to work on passenger planes, it presents an intriguing scenario. One of the biggest expenses contributing to airfare prices is jet fuel. The Solar Impulse plane could make “flying the friendly skies” both friendlier and cheaper.