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The US Navy Is Working on a Solar-Powered Plane Can Fly for 90 Days Straight

The US Navy is developing an uncrewed aircraft that can remain airborne for 90 days at a time thanks to massive solar panels on each of its wings.

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The US Navy is developing an uncrewed aircraft that can remain airborne for 90 days at a time thanks to massive solar panels on each of its wings, .


The aircraft, evocatively called Skydweller and built by US-Spanish aerospace company Skydweller Aero, could allow the Navy to keep a continuous eye on the surrounding seas while escorting ships months at a time, a major leap for renewable energy-powered aircraft.


The Skydweller


The plane builds on the Solar Impulse 2, a crewed solar aircraft that flew around the world in 2015 and 2016. The company converted the design into the Skydweller by removing the pilot seat, which allows for a longer range and more space for larger payloads, among other upgrades and adjustments.


The resulting aircraft has a 236-foot wing span and is covered in 2,900 square feet of photovoltaic cells that generate up to 2 kilowatts of power. It can hold up to 800 pounds of radar and camera equipment, .


“We are currently following our plan to test autonomous flight, then autonomous take-off, then autonomous landing and finally our first fully autonomous flight,” Skydweller Aero CEO Robert Miller told New Scientist. “Once all this has been proven, we will move into long-endurance testing with the goal of operating for 90-plus days.”


The US Navy is currently operating much bigger drones that can remain airborne for just 30 hours during maritime patrols. Longer flights however could prove particularly useful on a wider range of missions.


“For us, if you’re flying 90 days with one aircraft, that’s two takeoffs and landings versus… hundreds,” Skydweller Aero co-founder John Parkes told Aviation Today last month.


The company is also planning to fit the Skydweller wit hydrogen fuel cells to boost performance or serve as a backup in case of bad weather.


READ MORE: [New Scientist]


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