The US Navy is constructing a solar airplane – Freethink

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The U.S. Navy is developing a solar powered aircraft that can fly for 90 days while watching military ships.

The aircraft, named “Skydweller” after its builder, Skydweller Aero, is modeled on the Solar Impulse 2 aircraft that flew around the world in 2015 and 2016. But it has a big upgrade: Skydweller will be pilotless.

The futuristic feature: In the new version of the solar-powered aircraft, the builders are replacing the cockpit with autonomous technology.

“When we remove the cockpit, we enable real endurance and the ability to install up to 400 kilograms of payload capacity,” Robert Miller, CEO of Skydweller, told New Scientist.

According to reports, the plane's 72-foot wingspan will carry a long strip of solar panels so it can stay in the sky for up to 90 days. Skydweller will also use hydrogen fuel cells to boost performance and provide backup power in bad weather. The idea is that the aircraft should act as a monitoring tool and possibly a communication platform. During long flight times it could keep an eye on patrolling ships.

Cheaper, longer missions: The Navy is currently using drones the size of commercial aircraft to monitor ships at sea. But these drones can only fly for 30 hours at a time, reports the US Sun. A light, solar powered airplane could expand their capabilities and range.

“The biggest benefit of staying power is that you don't have to repeatedly drive to and from the operation area,” Justin Bronk of the Royal United Services Institute told New Scientist.

Skydweller will be able to fly 100 knots at an altitude of 45,931 with up to 800 pounds of surveillance equipment like radar and cameras, Inceptive Mind reports.

“If you fly an airplane for 90 days, that's two takeoffs and landings for us versus … hundreds,” Skydweller Aero co-founder John Parkes told Aviation Today in June. “Being able to fly thousands of miles, hover over an area for 30-60 days, and fly back is a differentiator. It's a huge cost saving for the US government when you look at the total cost of many of our national security missions. “

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