According to various foreign media outlets, the US Navy is currently researching and developing a solar UAV that can be used as the eyes of the military or a mobile communication platform in the air, and the end target is to fly for 90 consecutive days.
The international scientific magazine New Scientist pointed out in a recent article that the US Navy had begun to develop the UAV after signing a US$5 million contract with US-Spain aerospace startup Skydweller Aero.
The most renowned product of Skydweller Aero is the Solar Impulse 2, which is a single-seater monoplane powered by solar energy. The monoplane departed from Abu Dhabi in March 2015, and circled around the earth. Despite having landed midway due to the climate and battery heating, the monoplane completed its journey the year after.
Moving onto the next step of the research after successfully circling around the earth in 2016, the startup started to research and develop solar UAVs from July 2021, and CEO Robert Miller commented that upon a successful verification on the successive procedures of autonomous flying tests, automatic takeoff and landing, and fully automatic flying will be followed by an endurance test that aims to fly for 90 days.
As reported, the new solar UAV of Skydweller Aero may be larger and heavier compared to other solar aircrafts. Equipping a 71m long wing that is filled with 2KW solar panels, the UAV is likely to also be configured with hydrogen fuel cells to elevate performance, and is expected to fly at 100kn, with an altitude as high as 14,000m, as well as a capacity of 362kg.
UAV, as the name suggests, has no pilot’s seats, which reserves additional space for hardware equipment. The US Air Force also utilizes UAVs at the moment. Take MQ-9 Reaper as an example; the armed UAV is the first of its kind designed to execute high altitude reconnaissance missions for a prolonged period.
John Parkes, the co-founder of Skydweller Aero, commented that the new UAV contains less functions than that of MQ-9 Reaper, which saves expenditure for the military. The new aircraft is able to fly for 30-60 days after several thousand miles of mileage before returning to the point of departure.
(Cover photos source: Skydweller Aero)