A US – Spanish startup named Skydweller Aero Inc., prepares intensively to revolutionize unmanned aerial vehicles using renewable energy (such as lithium-ion batteries, solar panels, and hydrogen fuel cells). Skydweller Aero Inc. is headquartered in Oklahoma City (capital of the Oklahoma state) and has a subsidiary in Spain with facilities in Madrid and Castilla-La Mancha.
Skydweller Aero Inc. is in the process of converting the solar-powered Solar Impulse 2 aircraft into a persistent unmanned aerial vehicle and within the next year (GOVID-19 permitting) will begin demonstrations for potential military and civilian users in Spain and in other countries.
It is reminded that the Solar Impulse 2 in 2015 – 2016 flew around the world, recording 558.7 flight hours and covering a total distance of 22,195 nautical miles (41,105 km). The highlight was the flight between Japan and Hawaii, which lasted 117 hours and 52 minutes.
Skydweller Aero Inc., founded by John Parkes and Dr. Robert Miller (the current CEO of the company), acquired the assets and intellectual property of the Swiss company that developed Solar Impulse 2 and taking into account the rapid developments in the fields of solar – electric energy, began the implementation of an ambitious program to convert it into a persisting unmanned platform.
The new aerial vehicle, which has not yet been officially named, has a maximum take-off weight of 2,500 kg, a cruising speed of up to 100 knots (185 Km/h) and a flight altitude of more than 45,931 feet (14,000 meters).
The UAV will feature 72 m wings that are covered with 2,900 ft2 (269.41 square meters) of photovoltaic (PV) cells, which will capture renewable solar energy that can be converted to 2 kW of power to support its payloads. Hydrogen fuel cells can also be added to increase the reliability of the propulsion system especially in poor weather conditions.
The main feature of the aerial vehicle is the ability to carry power payloads following the removal of the cockpit, the pilot and the related safety equipment. In comparison with the well-known MQ-1 Predator surveillance and reconnaissance unmanned aerial vehicle, the renewably-powered aerial vessel has larger payload capability.
According to Skydweller Aero co-founder John Parkes, the renewable energy – powered unmanned aerial vehicle will be able to travel thousands of miles, persist over an area of interest for 60-90 days without the need for refueling and fly back to its base.
Finally, it should be noted that the Italian aerospace and defense group Leonardo has invested in Skydweller Aero Inc. Leonardo CEO Alessandro Profumo said that the investment would improve the Group’s competitive advantage in the aerospace business for the next 20 years.