High-altitude, autonomous, solar-powered aircraft flexes wings to ace flight tests
Nestled in between satellites and drones are autonomous aerial vehicles known as High Altitude Pseudo Satellites (HAPS), which can soar at the edges of space for long periods of time, acting as telecommunications relays or environmental monitors. Now, UAVOS has conducted test flights of its ApusDuo prototype, an autonomous, solar-powered aircraft with flexible wings that bend and bounce to keep it aloft.
HAPS vehicles have been hitting the skies for years, for a variety of purposes. The Zephyr broke endurance and altitude records back in 2010, and then a few more in 2014 after being brought under the Airbus umbrella. Facebook has been testing its Aquila drones as a way to bring high-speed internet to developing countries, and the ESA held a workshop in recent months to figure out how best to implement these aircraft and what to do with them.
UAVOS is now throwing its ApusDuo aircraft into the ring. Made of carbon fiber materials, the aircraft has two parallel sets of wings connected by three struts, in a similar configuration to many other HAPS machines.
The plane is powered by a series of solar panels running the width of these wings, and controlled through a small onboard computer. This CPU is designed to control and flex the aircraft's wings on the fly, steering it and keeping it airborne through changing weather and wind conditions. Takeoff and landing are also handled automatically.
The current prototype of the ApusDuo has a 46-ft (14-m) wingspan, weighs 33 lb (15 kg), and has just nailed its first set of test flights. UAVOS has reported that the ApusDuo has now logged more than 1,000 hours in the air, at an altitude of up to 66 ft (20 m). That may be far short of its eventual goal of at least 50,000 ft (15,000 m), but the test flights have shown how the flexible wings do let the plane fly, even in turbulence.
The UAVOS team says that this kind of control setup also allows the autonomous aircraft to be operated at more northern latitudes than are normally possible.
The results of the ApusDuo test flights were presented at the Xponential 2018 exhibition, and the aircraft can be seen in action in the video below.