Solar powered aircraft

Solar powered aircraft

Global warming from aircraft

Aviation  accounts for about 2 percent of human generated global CO2 and about 3 percent of global warming. By 2050 this is predicted to rise to 3 and 5%.

The solutions being worked on in these pages are:

     Efficiency of engines and aircraft design


     Electric powered aircraft.

Solar powered aircraft

While solar-powered, commercial flights may be a distant dream, the use of the technology for unmanned surveillance, research, and telecommunications aircraft may be close to reality. ref

 Click on images to access source and more detailed information

Solar aircraft history

1974   AstroFlight Sunrise

The first unmanned solar aircraft was AstroFlight Sunrise at Bicycle Lake, USA. 

 AstroFlight Sunrise

 ​1979  Solar Riser

First man carrying flight was Mauro Solar Riser built by Larry Mauro and was based on the UFM Easy Riser biplane hang glider. 350 watts of  photovoltaic cells were on the top wing. 

The pilot could power his craft for up to 5 minutes between charges.  It was enough that a pilot could use the engine to take off, catch a thermal, shut the engine off while it recharged.

1981   Gossamer Penguin

The Gossamer Penguin was a solar version of the gossamer albatross that had been powered by  a human pedalling.

Solar Challenger 

with a maximum power of 2.5 kW, succeeded in crossing the English Channel in 1981. Next were flights of several hundred kilometers with an endurance of several hours. It reached 14,300 feet.

1983   Solair 1

In Europe, Günter Rochelt produced Solair 1 fitted with 2500 photovoltaic cells, generating up to 2.2kW.

Solair 1 - D-MXOL

Solar Riser

 Gossamer Penguin

Solar Challenger

2001   NASA Helios pathfinder

The Helios Prototype aircraft was a proof-of-concept solar electric-powered flying wing designed to operate at high altitudes for long duration flight.

Part of a family of aircraft under the umbrella of ERAST (Environmental Research Aircraft and Sensor Technology), Helios was the culmination of the group’s solar-powered aircraft that, in August, 2001, reached an official world record altitude for a non-rocket powered aircraft, of 96,863 feet during a maximum-altitude flight.

On 26 Jun 2003 the aircraft was making the second in a series of shakedown flights leading toward a planned 40-hour long-endurance mission, when the aircraft broke apart in flight. The lightweight, highly flexible flying wing took off at 10:06 a.m. local time. About 16 minutes into the flight the aircraft encountered atmospheric turbulence causing abnormally high wing dihedral (upward bowing of both wingtips). Unobserved mild pitch oscillations began, but quickly diminished.

Thirty minutes into the flight the aircraft again encountered normal turbulence and then experienced an unexpected, persistent high wing dihedral configuration. As a result, the aircraft became unstable as pitch oscillations grew. Airspeed deviated from the normal flight speed, and the deviations grew with every cycle of the oscillation, soon exceeding the aircraft’s design speed. The resulting high dynamic pressures caused the wing’s outer wing panels to fail and the solar cells and skin on the upper surface to rip off.

The report is available at:



1990   Sunseeker

Sunseeker 2 is the second version of the craft that made twenty one flights and spent a hundred and twenty one hours in the air during 1990.

Sunseeker II is a completely solar powered airplane. If you’re flying at 3,000 feet – not high by airplane standards – would you want to cross states knowing that you don’t have a conventional engine onboard to keep you in the air? Maybe you shouldn’t rely on this flight to take you on your summer vacation, but this 506 pound airplane with a length of just 23 feet and a wingspan of 17 feet is covered with photovoltaic cells and charges four lithium polymer batteries. They power the 8 horsepower motor to 40 mph. ref

Sunseeker Website


1994   Soaring

Soaring was built in China of carbon fibre


1996  Icaré II

Built by the institute of aircraft design (Institut für Flugzeugbau) at University of Stuttgart.


Alan Cocconi, flew an unmanned airplane for 48 hours non-stop, propelled entirely by solar energy. This was the first such around-the-clock flight, on energy stored in the batteries mounted on the plane



2009  Solar Impulse

Solar impulse is a solar powered plane with batteries. managed to fly through the night with a pilot on board.

The team plans to make solar impulse the first solar plane to fly around the world.

The future - sometime

Odysseus: Aurora's radical, unlimited endurance, solar powered aircraft is planned to fly for 5 years non stop.

Solar powered airship

Solar Flight  plans to circumnavigate the globe using only solar energy. (They are the oranisation producing Sunseeker.)

Their Sunship is an airship with helium holding the mass of teh aircraft, and solar pushing it through the air. It is designed to carry 3 people at lower altitudes, 2 people to medium altitudes, and one person at high altitudes. The Sunship should be able to break the current altitude record for airships of 24,000 ft. Website

Solar powered aircraft

Battery powered aircraft

Hybrid electric aircraft

Fuel cell aircraft      

Future aircraft         

Bio fuels