Aircraft

SolarStratos plane flies for the first time – but not quite to the stratosphere

SolarStratos plane flies for t...
SolarStratos takes to the Swiss skies
SolarStratos takes to the Swiss skies
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The flight took place in the SolarStratos team's home country of Switzerland, at the Payerne airport
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The flight took place in the SolarStratos team's home country of Switzerland, at the Payerne airport
SolarStratos test pilot Damian Hischier and official pilot Raphael Domjan
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SolarStratos test pilot Damian Hischier and official pilot Raphael Domjan
SolarStratos is equipped with 22 sq m (237 sq ft) of solar panels
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SolarStratos is equipped with 22 sq m (237 sq ft) of solar panels
SolarStratos takes to the Swiss skies
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SolarStratos takes to the Swiss skies
SolarStratos measures 8.5 m (27.9 ft) long, has a wingspan of 24.9 m (81.7 ft) and weighs in at just 450 kg (992 lb)
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SolarStratos measures 8.5 m (27.9 ft) long, has a wingspan of 24.9 m (81.7 ft) and weighs in at just 450 kg (992 lb)
SolarStratos took off at 8am and proceeded to fly for seven minutes at an altitude of 300 metres (984 ft)
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SolarStratos took off at 8am and proceeded to fly for seven minutes at an altitude of 300 metres (984 ft)

It was in November of 2016 that we first heard about SolarStratos, a 2-seater solar-electric aircraft that's ultimately intended to fly to an altitude of 25,000 m (82,000 ft) – the edge of space, essentially. The plane was unveiled to the public last December, and made its first flight this Friday.

The flight took place in the team's home country of Switzerland, at the Payerne airport. Flown by test pilot Damian Hischier, the aircraft took off at 8am and proceeded to fly for seven minutes at an altitude of 300 metres (984 ft) before landing and returning to its hangar. Raphael Domjan, who will pilot the plane on its stratospheric mission, looked on from the runway throughout.

"The plane is very nice to fly," Hischier said afterwards. "It is responsive and it is obvious that it has been very well designed and built."

SolarStratos test pilot Damian Hischier and official pilot Raphael Domjan
SolarStratos test pilot Damian Hischier and official pilot Raphael Domjan

SolarStratos is equipped with 22 sq m (237 sq ft) of solar panels. These charge a 20 kWh lithium-ion battery pack, which powers a 32-kW electric motor that in turn drives a 2.2-m (7.2-ft) propeller. It measures 8.5 m (27.9 ft) long, has a wingspan of 24.9 m (81.7 ft) and weighs in at just 450 kg (992 lb).

Designed by Calin Gologan, it is reportedly able to fly continuously for over 24 hours, which is more than enough to cover the expected two-and-a-half hours it will take to reach the stratosphere, 15 minutes cruising at peak altitude and three hours to return to the Earth.

Other test flights at higher altitudes are now in the works, with the final mission scheduled to take place next year.

"Our plane, which can fly at 25,000 metres, opens a window to electric and solar-powered high-altitude aviation – something that has never before been attempted," said Domjan. "Only by flying can we work out the plane's limits and today's short flight was an important first step on this pathway."

Source: SolarStratos

4 comments
Bob
There is no way this plane will ever fly that high. Not enough lift, not enough control surface, not enough propeller, and too much weight. I think the original claim was for this plane to carry two which would be an even bigger load.
Larry8219
That's around 2.8 times higher than the summit of Mount Everest. Can't even imagine what that would be like. I do know helicopters are unable to generate enough lift to get anywhere near the top of Everest. If this works it will show that this plane is indeed a technological marvel. It has no doubt flown that high in computer-generated simulations. It will be interesting to see if the models are correct. Good Luck!
MD
Um a quick check. Helicopter altitude record is 40814 ft. That's plenty high enough to fly over everest (29029 ft)
Douglas Bennett Rogers
Having a battery that lasts all night is the big hurldle. After that it is pilot endurance ( or lack of pilot) and parts wear. With no pilot it would be a good fly-by-phone platform. It might also evolve into a satellite launcher.