The solar electric demonstrator prototype taking off from Northern Colorado Regional Airport for its first flight (Image source: Bye Aerospace)
 

Bye Aerospace’s solar-electric prototype completes first flight

The company will use the prototype as a branching-off point to further develop a piloted version and a long-endurance unmanned pseudo satellite
Bye Aerospace of Englewood, Colo. recently completed the first flight of its solar electric technology demonstrator prototype. The first flight – on August 20 – and subsequent flight tests occurred at Northern Colorado Regional Airport and will provide crucial flight data required for the development of Bye Aerospace’s “StratoAirNet” and “Solesa” families of medium-altitude aircraft systems.

The piloted Solesa (which is short for Solar-Electric Survey Aircraft) and the optionally-piloted StratoAirNet unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), or drone, are designed to provide support for long-endurance commercial and government security requirements, including patrol, geospatial observation, utility, mapping, precision agriculture, search and rescue, and surveillance missions.
 


The successful first flight occurred at Northern Colorado Regional Airport. (Image source: Bye Aerospace)


 
Both aircraft use a light-weight composite structure to reduce weight and space-proven SolAero Technologies Corp. photovoltaic cells integrated into 50-foot graphite composite wings. (Image source: Bye Aerospace)
 


SolAero successfully integrated the flexible solar modules while minimizing add-on mass and preserving the critical laminar flow surface of the wing. (Image source: Bye Aerospace)


 
According to Bye Aerospace, the SolAero photovoltaic cells can deliver around 2,000 watts for sustained flight in ideal conditions. (Image source: Bye Aerospace)
 

The Solesa will perform short-duration patrol and survey missions and serve as a research and development test platform for new customer payloads. Bye Aerospace’s initial development of a piloted solar-powered aircraft will allow for immediate airspace access and a faster time-to-market – as in, not having to navigate UAV flight clearance and the associated beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) system and regulatory nuances – at a fractional operational cost and environmental impact compared to a conventionally-powered aircraft.

However, as Bye Aerospace develops its unmanned flight capabilities and addresses airspace restrictions, a lower-weight, longer-endurance unmanned StratoAirNet iteration will fill a medium-altitude pseudo-satellite capable of completing missions that call for lengthier loiter and observation durations.

Related: Airbus’ “high-altitude pseudo-satellite” (HAPS) Zephyr S breaks world flight endurance record during maiden flight


The recent test flights of Bye Aerospace’s technology demonstrator will also help to expedite sensor payload integration for the Solesa and StratoAirNet aircraft as those programs mature.

Both StratoAirNet and Solesa offer unique advantages over traditional systems, including lower unit cost, lower heat and noise signatures, lower operating costs and enhanced utility.

George E. Bye, CEO and founder of Bye Aerospace, describes the first flight as a significant industry milestone. “It was a great day for solar-electric aviation,” he says. “My thanks to our entire team for their persistence and extra efforts to achieve this milestone. I would also like to thank the professionals at Northern Colorado Regional Airport for their cooperation in making these flights possible.”

Solar-powered pioneers

The August flight of the Bye Aerospace’s new demonstrator comes months after the first flight of one of the company’s earliest projects: the “Sun Flyer 2” aircraft. The Sun Flyer, which first flew in April, is a two-seat, solar-powered aircraft geared towards the general aviation market and reducing the ecological and often-prohibitive flight training costs associated with conventional fuel.

Bye Aerospace developing the Sun Flyer 2 to meet U.S. Federal Aviation Regulation (FAR) Part 23 airworthiness standards for normal, utility, acrobatic, and commuter aircraft.



From the grassroots of general aviation, Bye Aerospace’s solar-powered flight technology may one day reach for off-world flight. Already partnered with SolAero (a provider of solar panels to major spacecraft manufacturers), Bye Aerospace intends to investigate solar-paneled aircraft concepts for performing survey missions on Mars and other planetary bodies of interest.


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William Kucinski is content editor at SAE International, Aerospace Products Group in Warrendale, Pa. Previously, he worked as a writer at the NASA Safety Center in Cleveland, Ohio and was responsible for writing the agency’s System Failure Case Studies. His interests include 'literally anything that has to do with space,' past and present military aircraft, and propulsion technology. And also sportscars.
 
Contact him regarding any article or collaboration ideas by e-mail at william.kucinski@sae.org.
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