“If you fly an airplane for 90 days, that's two take-offs and landings for us compared to […] Hundreds. “
The US Navy is developing an unmanned aircraft that, thanks to massive solar panels on each of its wings, can stay in the air for 90 days at a time, reports New Scientist.
The aircraft, famously called the Skydweller, and built by the U.S.-Spanish aerospace company Skydweller Aero, could allow the Navy to keep an eye on the surrounding seas while escorting ships for months, a huge leap for renewable energy aircraft .
The sky dweller
The aircraft is based on the Solar Impulse 2, a manned solar aircraft that flew around the world in 2015 and 2016. The company rebuilt the design into the Skydweller by removing the pilot's seat, allowing for greater range and more space for larger payloads. including upgrades and adjustments.
The resulting aircraft has a wingspan of 236 feet and is covered with 2,900 square meters of photovoltaic cells that generate up to 2 kilowatts of power. According to Aviation Today, it can hold up to 800 pounds of radar and camera equipment.
“We are currently pursuing our plan to test autonomous flight, then autonomous take-off, then autonomous landing, and finally our first fully autonomous flight,” Robert Miller, CEO of Skydweller Aero, told New Scientist. “As soon as all of this is proven, we will move on to long-term tests with the aim of working over 90 days.”
The US Navy currently operates much larger drones that can only stay in the air for 30 hours on sea patrols. However, longer flights could prove particularly useful on a wider range of missions.
“If you fly an airplane for 90 days, that's two takeoffs and landings for us versus … hundreds,” John Parkes, co-founder of Skydweller Aero, told Aviation Today last month.
The company also plans to equip the Skydweller with hydrogen fuel cells to boost performance or to serve as a backup in bad weather.
CONTINUE READING: The US Navy is developing a solar powered airplane that can fly for 90 days [New Scientist]
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