Drones for month­s­long mis­sions in the pipe­line

Academy to dis­play its next-gen­er­a­tion, so­lar-pow­ered model at Zhuhai Air Show

China Daily (USA) - - TOP NEWS - By ZHAO LEI zhaolei@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Avi­a­tion re­searchers in China are de­vel­op­ing so­lar­pow­ered drones ca­pa­ble of stay­ing air­borne for at least a month, a se­nior de­signer has re­vealed.

Shi Wen, head of un­manned air­craft de­vel­op­ment at the China Academy of Aerospace Aero­dy­nam­ics, said in an ex­clu­sive in­ter­view that his team has de­vel­oped pro­to­types to demon­strate new tech­nolo­gies and equip­ment.

Last week, his team con­ducted the maiden flight of a gi­ant so­lar-pow­ered drone at an air­port in north­west­ern China. Shi said the 14-me­ter long drone has a 45-me­ter wing span, longer than a Boe­ing 737, and can carry a pay­load of 20 kilo­grams.

He said mass-pro­duced mod­els will even­tu­ally be able to fly for one to six months, and added: “We plan to make one that can stay in the air for five years. Our next-gen­er­a­tion drones will have a 60- to 70-me­ter wing span and will be able to carry a pay­load of at least 50 kg.”

Scale mod­els of the so­lar­pow­ered drone as well as ad­vanced com­bat drones de­vel­oped by the academy will go on show at the 11th China In­ter­na­tional Avi­a­tion and Aerospace Ex­hi­bi­tion, com­monly known as the Zhuhai Air Show, on Nov 1.

The academy be­gan to re­search drones in 2002 and con­ducted its first test flight three years later, ac­cord­ing to Shi, who said its en­gi­neers have gone on to de­velop ad­vanced aero­dy­namic de­signs, ul­tra­light frames, flight con­trol sys­tems and high-qual­ity so­lar cells.

Sci­en­tists are con­tin­u­ing work to im­prove bat­ter­ies and mo­tors, he said, adding that China is al­ready a top maker of so­lar-pow­ered drones, se­cond only to the United States.

The academy, part of China Aerospace Science and Tech­nol­ogy Corp, is one of the coun­try’s largest mil­i­tary drone devel­op­ers. Shi said its CH se­ries has been sold to 20 mil­i­tary buy­ers in more than 10 coun­tries.

So­lar-pow­ered drones can fly at al­ti­tudes of 20 to 30 kilo­me­ters for a long time, which means they can be used as “at­mo­spheric satel­lites” to pro­vide ser­vices con­ven­tion­ally dom­i­nated by satel­lites in space, Shi said.

He added that they­have big po­ten­tial in mil­i­tary re­con­nais­sance, elec­tronic war­fare, mar­itime surveil­lance, traf­fic nav­i­ga­tion, telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions and aerial sur­veys.

Shi said he ex­pects so­lar­pow­ered drones to have an enor­mous mar­ket and they are re­ceiv­ing a lot of at­ten­tion from po­ten­tial users.

Wu Peixin, an avi­a­tion in­dus­try an­a­lyst in Bei­jing, said re­searchers around the world are striv­ing to de­velop high-ef­fi­ciency so­lar cells, re­li­able ul­tra­light frames and power man­age­ment sys­tems to pro­mote so­lar-pow­ered drones for large-scale use.

Tech­nol­ogy com­pany Aero Viron­ment Inc in Cal­i­for­nia has been de­vel­op­ing so­lar-pow­ered un­manned aerial ve­hi­cles since the late 1970s, and some of its mod­els have been funded by the US Na­tional Aero­nau­tics and Space Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Internet gi­ant Face­book has also in­vested in the field in the hope of be­ing able to con­nect the en­tire world to the web. The com­pany has de­vel­oped a drone called Aquila that will beam internet sig­nals to ru­ral ar­eas that lack the tele­com in­fras­truc­ture needed for internet con­nec­tiv­ity, for­tune. re­ported.

The Swiss Fed­eral In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy in Zurich has pro­duced the so­lar-pow­ered At­lantik So­lar un­manned air­craft sys­tem to demon­strate and test tech­nolo­gies.


An un­dated photo of the China Academy of Aerospace Aero­dy­nam­ics’ so­lar-pow­ered drone dur­ing a flight test in North­west China.

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