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Andy Soos

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Andy Soos is a writer for the news site: Environmental News Network

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A Look at Solar Planes

Boeing is one of the most recognizable names in the aviation industry, so when they come up with a new design it generates a great deal of attention and fanfare. In this case the new design is of a solar powered plane. Others have proposed similar in the past. Perhaps Boeing will generate enough interest for long term support of the concept.

The world’s first official flight in a solar powered, man carrying aircraft took place on April 29, 1979. The Solar Riser was built by Larry Mauro and was based on the Easy Riser biplane hang glider.

Solar Challenger was a solar-powered electric aircraft designed by Paul MacCready's AeroVironment. The aircraft was designed as an improvement on the Gossamer Penguin, which in turn was a solar-powered variant of the human-powered Gossamer Albatross. It was powered entirely by the photovoltaic cells on its wing and stabilizer, without even reserve batteries, and was the first such craft capable of long-distance flight. In 1981, it successfully completed a 163 mile demonstration flight from France to England.

In 1990 the solar powered airplane Sunseeker successfully flew across the USA. It used a small battery charged by solar cells on the wing to drive a propeller for takeoff, and then flew on direct solar power and took advantage of soaring conditions when possible.

The Sunseeker II, built in 2002, was updated in 2005-2006 with a more powerful motor, larger wing, lithium battery packs and updated control electronics. In 2009 it became the first solar-powered aircraft to cross the Alps.

The new Boeing project is the proposed SolarEagle. The SolarEagle is the result of the Phantom Works research into unmanned aerial vehicles that are powered by renewable energy sources. The SolarEagle is designed to run off of electricity gathered by the sun’s rays. The really unique ability that the SolarEagle is bringing to the table is that it will supposedly be capable of flying non-stop in the stratosphere for a period of five years before being required to land.

The idea is that the craft can gather energy during the day from the sun and store it to run throughout the night in a premise that is similar to the manned solar craft the Solar Impulse team managed to successfully fly for twenty four hours in Switzerland. This happened in July 2010 when the plane made history by flying around the clock on the sun's energy alone, using 14 hours of sunshine to power its engines and charge its batteries for the night.

While the SolarEagle’s lofty goal of staying in the skies for nearly five years seems improbable, Boeing is confidant that the technology is already here. Boeing has received an $89 million contract to prepare the SolarEagle for a month long test flight in 2014. Once completed, the craft will have a wingspan of nearly 400 feet and will be designed to withstand the high winds of the upper stratosphere while utilizing a minimum amount of energy.

Perhaps one day people will routinely fly in solar planes that never need refueling. It will be a different world then.

By. Andy Soos of Environmental News Network


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