Pilots Say Unmanned Solar-Powered Aircraft Not Far Away

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Written by Guest | Last Updated September 19th, 2019
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It's already been proven that solar energy can power manned aircraft. Now, a couple of experts believe it won't be long before unmanned aircraft do the same thing.

Swiss pilots Andre Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard believe pilotless aircraft such as drones will be able to use the sun's solar rays to remain in the air for great distances and times. The pair should know as well as anyone. After all, they've already made a historic journey in a solar-powered airplane.

Borschberg and Piccard are the pilots of Solar Impulse, the world's first solar-powered airplane. The aircraft uses the sun the power its flight, and does not release fuel emissions or other pollutants into the air.

The pilots have also done something no one on Earth has done.

The journey

Solar Impulse

Last March, Borschberg and Piccard took Solar Impulse from Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates to Oman in a 13-hour nonstop flight. It was the first leg of what the duo hoped would be an across-the-world trip in the solar-powered plane. The journey continued all the way to Hawaii, where the pilots arrived after a four-day, 21-hour flight from Japan, before the trip had to be temporarily shut down due to a broken battery.

Borschberg and Piccard hope to get Solar Impulse back in the air in April before making back to Abu Dhabi later this year.

Not only has the pair attempted something never before done, but in building Solar Impulse, they also have developed new technologies and materials, such as more efficient insulation. Borschberg said these new technologies could be used to help power drones and other un-piloted craft. He added that drones could be capable of doing some of the types of things currently done by satellites, including communication and observation.

Beyond piloted aircraft

Borschberg believes solar-powered aircraft has the capability of staying in the air for long periods of time.

"An unmanned version could fly six months, maybe one year at very high altitudes, above the airliners," he said.

The two pilots are on the verge of proving that long-distance flight without the use of fuel is feasible; however, getting people and industries to get behind the idea of transitioning away from traditional fuel will be a little more difficult. Piccard is challenging industry leaders to move away from antiquated technologies and work toward developing innovative technologies that will use fuels more efficiently.

"Carbon dioxide is not the problem. It's the symptom," Piccard said. "The problem is outdated technology."

A different mindset

Thinking outside of the box is important, the pilots believe, and they urge people to be innovative and daring-to even go in directions that might not seem logical at first. After all, Borschberg and Piccard originally took their solar-powered aircraft to an airplane company, where their notions were dismissed. Undeterred, they made some alterations and next went to a boat company, where their plans were received positively.

Piccard said innovation is simply a matter of saying farewell to old ways of doing things.

"Freedom is not when we can do everything," he said. "It is when we can think everything."

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