Gallery: Solar Powered Plane Could Fly for Five Years Straight


Homer‘s beloved character, Odysseus, may have garnered international acclaim by traversing the globe in a ship, but we think the famed traveler’s latest namesake represents a much hotter way to roam. Aurora Flight Sciences has unveiled a solar-powered concept plane, the Odysseus. The autonomous surveillance craft boasts the ability to fly above the earth for up to five years straight, deriving power solely from its solar panels.

The Odysseus is actually a combination of three planes made up of 164-foot-long, wing-shaped structures. The planes would be launched separately and then combine once in the stratosphere, where air is calmer. Once the craft is fully assembled, it measures 492 feet in width and is capable of zipping along at 140 miles per hour at an altitude of 60,000 to 90,000 feet. Solar panels lining the top of the plane provide power, and the craft itself is capable of autonomously changing its shape in order to maximize sunlight exposure. Researchers are currently exploring different ways the plane could store power when the sun isn’t shining–possible methods include flywheels, fuel cells or even batteries.

So far, the plane is just in the concept stage, but researchers are currently working on a half-sized plane and expect to complete a full-sized prototype within the next five years. Once the company creates a fully functioning plane, the Odysseus could come in handy for the environment and national security: researchers say the craft could be used for surveillance, like patrolling borders or observing suspected nuclear reactor sites. The sun-powered plane could also be used for environmental surveillance, monitoring storm development, the ozone layer and even changes brought on by global warming.

+ Aurora Flight Sciences

Via Popular Science


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  1. Charling February 21, 2010 at 1:57 am

    I am interested in solar powered helicopter. Would appreciate the relevant information and articles you could send to me.

    Thank you,

  2. sama3033 September 12, 2009 at 12:57 pm

    Why not use this for something constructive? Do we really need a more advanced predator drone to spy on us or fling rockets hither and yon? Why not use it to tow carbon scrubbers through the atmosphere for five years? A fleet of them might do the planet some good

  3. Myint Aung August 29, 2009 at 2:23 am

    most better for the human bing craft in the world

  4. DocWu August 26, 2009 at 10:54 am

    I can see this being useful as an alternative to communications satellites. Low speed wouldn’t be a disadvantage. The idea is to stay aloft for long periods of time, not cover distances. Speed takes more energy.

  5. Ben H August 24, 2009 at 3:22 pm

    But to be useful in military applications, you’d have to already control the airspace.
    And build it with larger surfaces to get the lift you’d need to support the equipment.
    140 miles an hour might sound speedy to us mere land dwellers, but for an aircraft, its down right sluggish.
    It’d be like a big pelican, lazily hovering above.

  6. slinkyzomo August 24, 2009 at 1:19 pm

    Wow, that is one cool looking craft!


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