While everyone went about their daily lives as usual, China secretly flew a massive solar-powered drone high in the skies. It wasn’t until now that the country officially unveiled what it was working on – the world’s second largest solar-powered drone.
Image Credit: China Daily
The drone, which goes by the name of CH-T4, appears to be capable of staying in the skies for months, using the Sun’s renewable solar energy to stay in flight. During the most recent test-flight, China was able to keep it stable at an altitude of up to 65,000 feet, but it may be capable of more.
If this sort of thing sounds familiar, that’s because a solar plane dubbed Solar Impulse recently made an international trip around the globe to prove that solar power was a viable power source. On the other hand, Impulse is different from China’s aircraft, as Impulse is manned and China’s solar-powered drone is unmanned.
Designed specifically for domestic use, China’s solar-powered drone weighs almost 900 pounds and can fly as quickly as 125 miles per hour on nothing more than its eight electrically-powered propeller motors.
The long wingspan, which measures out to around 130 feet wide, which doubles as a large surface area for the solar panel array, helps the plane do a lot of gliding to conserve power.
If you were wondering what the world’s first-largest solar powered drone was, then you would have to turn your attention to NASA’s Helios, which is in its prototype stages and carries a super-wide wingspan of 246 feet – almost double that of China’s drone – and a maximum flying altitude that’s 30% higher than CH-T4.
Such drones could be useful for a host of different things, especially thanks to their long airtime capabilities. Some companies are working on drone-based cellular networks, while others are looking into using drones as surveillance systems.
China reportedly has plans to make its drone designs readily available to other countries so that they too can take advantage of its technologies.
It should be interesting to see where the future of unmanned solar-powered drone technology puts us, especially since the capabilities of these aircraft are rapidly evolving as battery and solar technology each become more powerful.