Solar-powered two-seat Sunseeker airplane has progress report

Apr 24, 2014 by Nancy Owano weblog

(Phys.org) —Years ago, the idea of an airplane flying "clean" on the sun's energy seemed like wishful thinking and at the most a project for the casual hobbyist to dream on. No longer a dream, the serious-minded company called Solar Flight, which over time has been working on a two-seater solar powered airplane called Sunseeker Duo that can stay up for extended periods. The latest news from Solar Flight talks about its most recent tests that show promise. The company vision of a two-seater solar aircraft for real use is that much closer. "The tricycle landing gear arrangement, familiar to all pilots, ensures that the Duo will operate normally at any airport in the world and folding wings give the airplane a hanger footprint no larger than a Cessna 172. The airplane can also be quickly disassembled and packed into a custom trailer," said the company's website notes. In recent tests, the team assessed the plane's performance and this month published results."

Over the past months, the flying qualities of the airplane, as well as the performance of the battery system, motor, propeller, folding hub mechanism, and landing gear retraction systems have been explored," said the company site.

"More area and additional were added to the horizontal stabilizer. "Now the airplane is docile with good control authority in the air and on the ground. The performance is better than the previous airplane in every category; operations are easier because the landing gear and systems are more conventional; and the has enough excess power to carry a passenger and baggage."

As reported in the CAFE Foundation's Cafe Blog earlier this week, with a 25 kilowatt (33.5 horsepower) motor, the Duo, with two people on board, can cruise directly on . The Duo is capable of durations in excess of 12 hours. It makes use of a battery pack in the fuselage to store energy harvested from solar cells lining wings and tail surfaces.

Nick Lavars of Gizmag also reported more stats on the plane on Wednesday: The Sunseeker Duo has a wingspan of 22 meters (72 ft) and weight of 280 kg (617.3 lb). He said there are 1,510 solar cells that line the wings and tail. Lavars quoted project leader Eric Raymond as saying "The lithium batteries today have seven times more capacity than the nickel cadmium batteries we used in Sunseeker I."

Looking ahead, "Sunseeker Duo will embark on continental expeditions and attempt to establish multiple official aviation records," according to the company site.

Explore further: Next generation solar plane unveiled in Switzerland (Update)

More information: solar-flight.squarespace.com/f… irst-powered-flights
www.solar-flight.com/sunseeker-duo1/

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User comments : 9

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dvdrushton
5 / 5 (4) Apr 24, 2014
I wonder if this bodes well for the cost of hobby flying. Currently the expense of maintaining the motor can be prohibitive - very strict maintenance schedules - must be done by certified mechanics.

Awesome project.
Noodle_Naut
5 / 5 (4) Apr 24, 2014
Love it. But the wings are just too long. Maybe a biplane design would be safer. It also appeared in the video to be using thermals, making it a self-launching glider rather than an airplane.

Still, it is a great step forward on this very difficult engineering puzzle.

antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (3) Apr 25, 2014
Maybe a biplane design would be safer.

But you might be shadowing one wing with the other.

But I totally love it. I once started on getting my glider license,a and if something like this comes to market at a not too exorbitant price I think I'll redo that.
Scottingham
5 / 5 (1) Apr 25, 2014
I would love to tour the USA in one of these.
Jeffhans1
5 / 5 (2) Apr 25, 2014
If you use an offset wing biplane design you get both the compact profile as well as the same solar generating surface area. Basically have one set of wings further forward than the other like this:
http://www.gibbsg...art2.htm
Egleton
not rated yet Apr 26, 2014
Where are the Trolls?
I am very pleased to see that someone has done the blindingly obvious.
Once we can move the bureaucrats out of the way I am sure that competitive juices will produce a plethora of offerings.
Has anyone ever heard about Peak Oil? (If THAT doesen't bring out the paid hacks, nothing will!)
When do you expect oil to go back down to $4 per barrel again? $0.35c a gallon?
So how do you expect to get from your town to visit grandma? And what will you use for roads? Roads-Bitumen, get the connection?
Expect a lot of silly laws to try and stop this thing. (Remember having to turn off your new-fangled auto-mobile at every T junction, get out and fire a rifle in both directions? True Californian law- imposed by buggy manufacturers. We will see the equivalent)

And before some genius points out that it will be hopeless for getting a pint of milk from the corner shop- I beg you not to embarrass us all here on Physorg.
Eikka
not rated yet Apr 27, 2014
Where are the Trolls?


Do you actually want trolling, or just someone pointing out the obvious shortcomings?

It has 25 minutes of runtime when the sky is overcast, and it's not really powerful enough to climb above.

It's still a fair weather toy plane. Very little practical use. It is not a solution to any of the problems with fossil fuels. You're not going to be using this solar glider to visit your granny.

And before some genius points out that it will be hopeless for getting a pint of milk from the corner shop- I beg you not to embarrass us all here on Physorg.


Then why did you just spend a whole post raving about exactly that?

-that- is trolling.
Egleton
not rated yet Apr 27, 2014
Nice bit of trolling, well done.
Oh well, I am going to have to do a bit of your thinking for you.
This effort is no more the finished product than was the Wright Bros' flyer.
Have we exausted all our creative juices? Is technology bottled in aspic? Did someone stop time?
I do have some suggestions that are worth trying, but you show me yours first then I will show you mine.
Eikka
not rated yet Apr 27, 2014
This effort is no more the finished product than was the Wright Bros' flyer.


Let's look at it from the broad perspective.

Solar airplanes differ from the Wrights' Flyer in the crucial fact that the internal combustion engine doesn't have the same scaling limits. The power of a combustion engine increases in the cube of its size, whereas the power of a solar panel increases in direct proportion to its size. That's why the combustion engine can support larger aircraft, while the solar panel can't.

Solar panels today are proportionally much more advanced than internal combustion engines in 1906. There's not that much room to improve.

With that wingspan and collecting area, they can afford a 33 HP motor. With a theoretically perfect solar panel, they could afford double that. 60-70 HP. A regular light airplane of the same size has at least 150 HP, and the disparity will just grow the bigger you make the airplane.

And it still won't work with overcast skies.

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