When we hear the word drone, what usually comes to mind are those small, remote controlled flying robots used for in-air photography and delivering small packages, right? Well, not this one. China’s new solar powered drone is huge, 130 feet wide, and can fly up to 65,000 feet up in the air. How can it possibly do that, you ask? Well, it has a lightweight body and runs on renewable energy that can power all of its 8 electrical propellers. Also, it’s pretty darn fast. It can fly up to 125 miles per hour!
The drone, named the Caihong-T 4 (or CH-T4 for short), was built by the Chinese Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics, or the CAAA. It features a double-bodies fuselage, a cranked wing, and a twin tail. It’s 130 feet or 40 meter wingspan makes it larger that the Boeing 737 jetliner. Yet, even if it’s massive, it only weights between 880 to 1,100 pounds, depending on how much load it’s got. The reason why it’s so light is because it’s made up of carbon fiber and plastic components.
Source: Popular Science
The drone’s size and flight altitude it can reach is comparable to the NASA Helios Prototype, which is a similar solar-powered flight wing. The prototype has a wingspan of 246 feet, and can reach an altitude of up to 96,863 feet. Scientists from the CAAA had said in China Daily that their goal was to design an aircraft that can fly in the air for several months without the need to land, requiring only minimal human supervision. With the CH-T4, they were able to achieve the goal. Also, due to the fact that it flies at an extremely high altitude, it’s almost always going to be above all cloud covers. This means that it can get unlimited access to sunlight during the day. Once the sun goes down though, the CH-T4 will use its onboard batteries to keep running.
Source: Motor 24
This long-duration aircraft project by the CAAA mirrors other works from big companies such as DARPA and Facebook. These kind of technologies will be pretty useful for military operations, specifically surveillance ones against terrorists and other militaries. This is because its high flight ceiling allows it to oversee an area of up to 400,000 square miles of land and water, which is the size of Egypt. It’ll also be pretty useful for tech companies, as watching over such a large area makes it perfect for data relay and communications node. Additional uses can include replacing or backing up satellite communications, maintaining coverage between distant aircrafts and ships, and providing broadband internet to rural Chinese citizens.
While most drones are either made for photography, parcel delivery, and even missile toting, these kind of drones might be the most important ones invented yet. It might be pretty useful in the future, soaring up high and unseen, collecting and transporting data day in and day out for months on end. Well, whatever they’ll end up using these long flight duration drones for, it’s a pretty neat and innovative technology.