Germany's Elektra Solar has announced that its Elektra Two Solar OPS high altitude, long endurance aircraft has successfully taken off, flown around a bit and landed all by itself, in a demonstration of a new autopilot system.

The Elektra Two Solar Optionally Piloted System (OPS) demonstrator aircraft is reported to have a wingspan of 24.8 m (81 ft), with the company making good use of all that sky-facing area to install 22.5 m2 (242 ft2) of photovoltaic cells on the wings and tail. Those cells feed onboard batteries which power 32 kW electric motors.

Elektra Solar makes use of double-redundant, solar-electric propulsion system with three-level redundancies in the control systems for promised reliability and safety. Work on control algorithms and systems is undertaken in cooperation with the DLR Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics.

The Elektra Two Solar OPS is designed as a mission alternative to Unmanned Aircraft Systems, allowing for a flexible pilot approach in stratospheric scientific and commercial operations, though the aircraft used for the autopilot test didn't fly that high. And there was a human pilot in the cockpit to intervene if issues arose, but in the end he wasn't needed and the Elektra Two managed to take off, fly along while testing whole system parameters and modes and land in less-than-ideal weather conditions.

The project's first solar flyer took to the skies around Ausberg airport in early 2011, this was followed by a successful Alpine crossing in June 2015 at a peak altitude of more than 3,000 m and, most recently, the One Solar 3D-mapped the town of Landshut in Southern Germany. The next step on its mission to have its aircraft fly day and night missions is to get one of them soaring at high altitude.

"We have taken a giant step towards the stratosphere and are very optimistic that we will be able to fly in a short time with our next aircraft at altitudes up to 20 km," said the company's Dr. Konstantin Kondak. "We are not yet able to achieve this goal with the current aircraft. However, in order to achieve this, we followed new paths in the manufacture of the next aircraft in process and production technology."

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