Swiss solar-powered UAV sets new flight endurance record

By Patrick C. Miller | August 06, 2015

AtlantikSolar’s solar-powered unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) has set a world record for its class by remaining aloft for 81.5 hours while flying a distance of 1,439 miles.

The record was broken during the fifth test flight of the AtlantikSolar 2 (AS-2) UAV, which occurred July 14-17 over an airfield for radio-controlled model aircraft at Rafz, Switzerland. The project’s ultimate goal is to conduct the first-ever autonomous solar-powered UAV crossing of the Atlantic Ocean.

According to AtlantikSolar, the test flight in mid-July was the longest demonstrated continuous flight for aircraft below 110 pounds and also the longest continuous flight of a low-altitude long-endurance aircraft. The previous record was a 48-hour flight by a 29-pound SoLong UAV.

AtlantikSolar is a project of the aerial vehicles group at the Autonomous Systems Lab (ASL) in the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich. The lab is part of the Institute of Robotics and Intelligent Systems which creates robots and intelligent systems designed to autonomously operate in complex and diverse environments.

The flight was a milestone to verify the AS-2’s ability to stay airborne for days while providing telecommunication services in large-scale disaster-scenarios or live-imagery during industrial sensing and inspection missions.

The AS-2 was launched by hand the morning of July 14 and landed safely with fully charged batteries the evening of July 17 after four days and three nights in the air. Except for the takeoff, the UAV was in fully autonomous operation for 98 percent of the test flight.

AtlantikSolar said that after flying three nights, the AS-2 on average reached a minimum charge of 35 percent, but retained sufficient electrical safety margins to handle potential deteriorating conditions, such as longer nights, cloud cover or winds.

Following the successful flight test, the AtlantikSolar UAV project plans to focus on extended endurance flights with payloads that include optical and infrared cameras, plus atmospheric sensors. During a mission in the Brazilian rain forest planned for later this year, these payloads will be carried during a long-endurance, long-distance mission lasting more than 12 hours over a distance of nearly 250 miles.

A video about the record-breaking flight can be viewed here.


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