Aircraft

Sunseeker II & III on show in Paris

The huge 17 meter wingspan of the Sunseeker II
The huge 17 meter wingspan of the Sunseeker II
View 20 Images
The Sunseeker II solar-powered airplane on display at the Green Air Show in Paris
1/20
The Sunseeker II solar-powered airplane on display at the Green Air Show in Paris
Sunseeker II ready for flight
2/20
Sunseeker II ready for flight
Sunseeker II landing in Lesce recently
3/20
Sunseeker II landing in Lesce recently
A rendering of what the finished Sunseeker III will look like
4/20
A rendering of what the finished Sunseeker III will look like
The front of Sunseeker III on display at the Green Air Show in Paris
5/20
The front of Sunseeker III on display at the Green Air Show in Paris
Each seat in Sunseeker III collapses to allow the pilot who isn't flying to lie down and rest
6/20
Each seat in Sunseeker III collapses to allow the pilot who isn't flying to lie down and rest
All packed and ready to go - Sunseeker II in its trailer
7/20
All packed and ready to go - Sunseeker II in its trailer
Sunseeker II parked up
8/20
Sunseeker II parked up
The instrument panel at the front of Sunseeker II's pilot compartment
9/20
The instrument panel at the front of Sunseeker II's pilot compartment
The huge 17 meter wingspan of the Sunseeker II
10/20
The huge 17 meter wingspan of the Sunseeker II
Like its predecessor, Sunseeker III will have a sliding window to cater to photo opportunities
11/20
Like its predecessor, Sunseeker III will have a sliding window to cater to photo opportunities
The rendering of the instrument controls in Sunseeker III gives an idea of what each of the two pilots will see
12/20
The rendering of the instrument controls in Sunseeker III gives an idea of what each of the two pilots will see
Technical drawings of Sunseeker III dual-pilot solar-powered aircraft
13/20
Technical drawings of Sunseeker III dual-pilot solar-powered aircraft
The rear of Sunseeker II's cockpit
14/20
The rear of Sunseeker II's cockpit
Sunseeker II flying over Le Bourget airfield in Paris
15/20
Sunseeker II flying over Le Bourget airfield in Paris
Sunseeker II flying over Le Bourget airfield in Paris
16/20
Sunseeker II flying over Le Bourget airfield in Paris
Sunseeker II flying over Le Bourget airfield in Paris
17/20
Sunseeker II flying over Le Bourget airfield in Paris
Sunseeker II flying over Le Bourget airfield in Paris
18/20
Sunseeker II flying over Le Bourget airfield in Paris
A brief moment with the press before Eric Raymond takes to the skies in Sunseeker II
19/20
A brief moment with the press before Eric Raymond takes to the skies in Sunseeker II
Just landed at Le Bourget in Paris
20/20
Just landed at Le Bourget in Paris

What is it about the single-seater Sunseeker II that drew a steady stream of visitors to the solar-powered airplane on display at the Green Air Show in Paris recently? Could it be the bluish flash of solar cells on its huge wings, or the inviting open cockpit, or maybe even the teetering propeller to the rear? Perhaps it's a delightful combination of gorgeous form and emission-free function that turned all those heads. With a two-pilot version coming soon, Gizmag took the opportunity to have a closer look.

Hang gliding veteran Eric Raymond first developed a solar-powered airplane in the late 1980s and used it to successfully cross the U.S. in 1990, spending some 121 hours in the air. Following a long list of refinements and modifications, an almost entirely new airplane was created some years later - Sunseeker II. The most recent change has been the implementation of dipped wing tips to allow for runway taxi. During flight, the new tips are pulled flush with the rest of the 17 meter (55 foot) wingspan.

The Sunseeker II solar-powered airplane on display at the Green Air Show in Paris
The Sunseeker II solar-powered airplane on display at the Green Air Show in Paris

Sunseeker II has solar cells integrated into the structure of the wing rather than being bonded to its surface. Contained within the wing structure are 48 Lithium Polymer battery cells which power the 5kW electric motor both during take-off and when gaining altitude, after which the pilot has a choice. Once at cruising altitude, he can either continue to drain the batteries, switch to solar only, or simply glide. The motor spins a "unique teetering propeller" to reduce vibration, working somewhat similarly to a helicopter's teeter hinge.

Its dry weight is just 120kg (264 pounds), it has a maximum speed of 160kph (just under 100mph) and a cruising speed of 65kph (about 40mph). The cockpit features tinted sliding windows that cater to in-flight photographic opportunities, and a panel which includes readouts for airspeed, GPS, battery/solar cell management and compass and horizon instruments.

The instrument panel at the front of Sunseeker II's pilot compartment
The instrument panel at the front of Sunseeker II's pilot compartment

Whilst the single-seater Sunseeker II is impressive enough, Raymond and his team are currently working on a two-pilot solar-powered aircraft, continuing the legacy by naming it Sunseeker III.

There will not just be enough room for two people in the new airplane, but dual controls too, the idea being that on long-haul flights one pilot can fly while the other rests. Only the cockpit was on display at Le Bourget, which is probably just as well because Sunseeker III is heading for a massive 23 meter (75 foot) wingspan. A rendering of the instrument panel sat at the front of the display model as an indication of things to come.

A rendering of what the finished Sunseeker III will look like
A rendering of what the finished Sunseeker III will look like

The Sunseeker III team is said to be using 22.8 percent efficient SunPower solar cells and a 20kW electric motor. Raymond told Gizmag that he hopes to have a motor contribution from solar in the region of 5kW. The position of the collapsible propeller has also changed from earlier aircraft, now being placed above the wings and in front of the empennage to help reduce vibration.

Each seat in Sunseeker III collapses to allow the pilot who isn't flying to lie down and rest
Each seat in Sunseeker III collapses to allow the pilot who isn't flying to lie down and rest

Development of the Sunseeker III is looking good for a 2011 test flight. More information is available from the Solar Flight website.

0 comments
There are no comments. Be the first!
Thanks for reading our articles. Please consider subscribing to New Atlas Plus.
By doing so you will be supporting independent journalism, plus you will get the benefits of a faster, ad-free experience.