One of the pioneers of solar-powered flight, a company aptly named Solar Flight, which has been developing solar airplanes for the last 28 years, announced a new solar-powered aircraft, which appears to be a real-life Lego-version of an airplane with interchangeable components. Named the SunStar, the aircraft is chiefly designed for High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) missions.
The SunStar features a sailplane-like design with a long wingspan, a small cockpit referred to as a “pod,” and twin booms leading to a one-piece horizontal tail surface. All surfaces are covered in solar panels to maximize the absorption of the sun’s rays and enable the airplane to fly for months or even years. The futuristic design incorporates fly-by-wire controls. The airplane will be powered by three electric motors, with two propellers mounted in front of the longitudinal booms and one behind the pod. Once the airplane reaches its targeted altitude, the boom-mounted motors can be shut down and its propellers folded with power flowing only to the pod-mounted motor.
While the SunStar will initially be flown with a pilot onboard, the company says the central pod is interchangeable. There are plans to be able to switch the pod to either a multi-seat or unmanned cockpit configuration. Additionally, the wingspan can be shortened for missions where a narrower wing is preferred.
Some systems will be shared with the Sunseeker Duo, which Solar Flight has been flight testing for several months. With winter setting in in the northern hemisphere, test flights are now focused on maximizing the flight time without the help from the sun. Solar Flight’s founder Eric Raymond said the Sunseeker Duo can climb to 6,500 feet without the help of additional solar power thanks to its powerful battery pack.