How Does A Solar Aircraft Actually Work?

Getting Inside A Solar Powered Aircraft

Solar powered aircraft have been around for decades, but for the general public, it’s news to them.

Solar airplanes do not function the way normal planes do, and a ride in one would be quite different as well.

First, the flight couldn’t start at night. It would have to begin in the morning on a day with little cloud coverage. Once the onboard solar generator had collected and stored enough energy, it could be slowly steered down the runway.

As soon as the wind caught the wings, the plane would ascend so gently that it may feel eery for passengers inside, as it would be much different from the rapid ascents people have grown accustomed to on regular flights.

Solar airplanes (depending on their function) can have a flight speed of around twenty-five miles per hour whereas a Solar Aircrafttypical aircraft flies at five hundred seventy-five miles per hour. Some people have the idea that because the flight may go slower that it is weakly powered. This is simply not the case.

Lately, the US military has become very interested in solar powered aircraft, mainly because the plane can be used to capture long streams of uninterrupted surveillance.

One solar powered unmanned aerial vehicle stayed in flight for fourteen straight days. Another Swiss engineered manned solar aircraft remained in the air for over a day.

Design

Most solar powered aerial vehicles have a very long body and short wings. They are also typically much lighter than the normal plane, some so lightweight that they can be tossed into the air by hand similar to throwing a paper airplane.

The only propulsion one may find on a solar plane is in its many electric propellers. Significantly less energy is used in turning the propellers on a solar airplane than on a regular jet plane, less energy than it takes to power a light bulb in fact.

Solar powered aircraft has a unique design. It must be lightweight but durable. Most newer models use carbon fiber piping that together form a “V” or an “X” shape to protect it from rolling. Moonlight does not produce enough solar energy at night to keep the propellers going, so most will run on either battery or used fuel cells.

The Solar panels that line the plane and don’t resemble the big panels one might observe in a solar park or on a building. They are so thin and flexible that they can be rolled and unrolled without any problems.

Inside the aircraft there are sensors for solar, voltage, and wind detection that a pilot can access from up in the air or on the ground, depending on if the craft is manned or unmanned.

What’s interesting is that some of the newer model solar airplanes shed their wheels after going airborne. The plane can either land on the skids or crash to the ground after its use is over.

Pre-Launch

Some things should be kept in mind before taking off. The batteries need to be fully charged, and the wind cannot be higher than ten miles per hour.

Anything above that at the time of takeoff could be hazardous. Turbulence is another factor. Just because it may not be windy on the ground, doesn’t mean higher layers of the sky aren’t gusty.

Eight a.m. is the preferred takeoff time for most pilots. The sun has been shining for a few hours, and there’s still plenty of daylight ahead in the day to supply the plane with plenty of photons.

Flight

Usually, batteries and solar panels work together to get the propellers ready for launch. Unmanned aircraft can either be tossed into the air or navigated down a runway.

The pilot tries to avoid shadows at all cost as they are an enemy of the solar powered aircraft. During the flight, the plane will switch back and forth from solar energy to batteries for power depending on the clouds and weather.

Descent

Most solar powered aerial vehicles glide down almost like a parachute. The pilot turns off the propellers, and the thin solar panels slowly fall out of the sky. The process is so slow it can be frustrating for an impatient pilot.

Solar airplanes can cost over twenty million dollars to build, but lots of aircraft cost much more. As with most new technology critics are apprehensive, citing safety concerns about solar aircraft durability.

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