Leading Edge / Spring 2012
Solar-Powered Flight

A new kind of aircraft could fly 1,000 km powered only by the sunlight that shines on its back



James DeLaurier, a professor emeritus at U of T’s Institute for Aerospace Studies, has designed a new kind of aircraft that he expects will be able to travel 1,000 km carrying up to 1,000 kg of cargo, powered only by the sunlight that shines on its back. It will also be able to take off from – and land on – a spot no larger than a high-school soccer field. Not quite an airship, not quite an airplane, the “solar ship” is a hybrid of both. The delta-shaped aircraft will be filled with helium, but slightly less than what’s required to lift it off the ground. Solar panels across the top of its body, likely backed up by a lithium-ion battery system, will supply enough electricity to drive it forward and into the air.

DeLaurier worked on the design for a Toronto company called Solar Ship. Jay Godsall, the company’s founder and chief executive, says the aircraft will be able to go where no roads are built, where landing locations are too small or have been destroyed, and where existing airplanes and helicopters can’t reach on a single tank of fuel.


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