AUVSI: Imagine a featherweight aircraft built of composites boasting an enormous 160 foot wing, swathed in solar cells that can take off at 20 mph and remain aloft for five years.
Yes, five years. The plane would fly at 65,000 feet, above most air traffic aside from the odd U-2 zooming past. It would, without a doubt, be the loneliest plane in history.
The aircraft, known as the Solara, and its company Titan Aerospace, were unveiled here at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, the world’s largest trade show for unmanned planes, vehicles and ships.
I spoke with Chief Technology Officer Max Yaney, clearly jazzed by all the attention his two-year-old firm was getting, nervously awaiting one of his first TV interviews. The plane, inspired in part by work done by Paul MacCready, builder of the various solar-powered Pathfinder aircraft, has been made possible by “a confluence of three” factors, Yaney told me: lighter, more efficient solar technology; better composites; and improvements to battery weight and power.