Boeing patents first solar powered plane that can fly forever. It can replace costly satellites

This plane stays aloft powered solely by sunlight. It is no more than a flying wing, and can maneuver without rudders, ailerons, tails, or other control surfaces. It flies without an onboard human pilot, but instead is controlled remotely from a ground station.

It can maintain a fixed position relative to the surface of the earth. Further, it can maintain flight at a fixed altitude above the surface of earth.

Therefore, the plane is an ideal fit for communication systems for use with radio signals, cell phone signals, microwave transmissions, television broadcasts, and even internet connections.

NASA developed a similar solar powered airplane. However, NASA’s airplane lacked sufficient solar panel area to absorb low-elevation sunlight, which limited its operation for longer durations or at higher altitudes, especially in winter. NASA’s airplane crashed during a flight as cloud shadows reduced the available solar power, which caused the plane to climb slowly and enter an area with turbulence.

It is challenging to design a working solar plane, as Solar power is very weak in terms of energy flux.

Boeing’s patented design overcame these challenges with unique winglets which enable the plane to capture much more solar radiation. A pair of relatively large modular winglets are attached to the transverse end portions of the main wing. The winglets are relatively long, up to 0.7 times the length of the main wing span. The winglets are nearly orthogonal to the main wing. This orientation exposes the winglets to a relatively large amount of low-angle solar radiation. This enables the plane to capture solar energy sufficient enough to power the flight and also store energy to fly in challenging weather conditions or at night.

The plane could spend years flying around the earth and may replace expensive satellites.

One of the inventors “Blaine Rawdon” has been involved in solar-powered plane projects since long. The second inventor is Aaron Kutzmann, who has a long list of patents for gizmos including space tractors.

Patent Information
Publication number: US 20160144969
Publication date: May 26, 2016
Filing date: May 20, 2014
Inventors: Blaine Knight Rawdon; Aaron J. Kutzmann;
Original Assignee: The Boeing Company