Aurora unveils test wing for solar aircraft

MANASSAS, Va., 4 March 2010. Aurora Flight Sciences has completed the fabrication and initial tests of an advanced wing design that could revolutionize solar-powered aircraft. The test wing, having a span of 22 feet and a chord of 15 feet, is built of advanced composite materials and lightweight plastics, and its upper surface is covered with advanced solar cells. The cells convert sunlight into electricity that would be used to power the aircraft and its payloads.

Posted by Courtney Howard

MANASSAS, Va., 4 March 2010. Aurora Flight Sciences has completed the fabrication and initial tests of an advanced wing design that could revolutionize solar-powered aircraft. The test wing, having a span of 22 feet and a chord of 15 feet, is built of advanced composite materials and lightweight plastics, and its upper surface is covered with advanced solar cells. The cells convert sunlight into electricity that would be used to power the aircraft and its payloads.

"Aurora's interest in solar-powered aircraft dates from the earliest days of the company," says Aurora CEO John Langford. "Our very first externally funded study, in 1989, was for a solar-powered version of the Daedalus human-powered aircraft. Today's designs are for much larger aircraft -- literally hundreds of feet in wingspan. The idea of this test panel was to develop and validate designs and manufacturing techniques. Doing this is essential for the accurate planning of any future solar aircraft development program."

In 2008, Aurora was selected as a contractor by DARPA for Phase 1 of the "Vulture" ultra-long endurance aircraft program. Aurora's design, called "Odysseus" uses a unique variable geometry design known as the "Z-wing."

The large solar test panel was privately funded by Aurora as an adjunct to Vulture. In addition to the test panel, Aurora has funded the development and flight test of the SunLight Eagle, a 114-foot wingspan solar UAV which made its first flights in the spring of 2009.

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