Brunel Solar Powered Aircraft

Brunel Solar Powered Aircraft

Radio controlled UAV utilising solar energy to improve endurance

Effectively a powered sailplane, this aircraft was designed to be capable of sustained gliding flight, allowing time for several flexible solar cells integrated into the upper surface of the wing, to recharge the on-board lithium battery.

Designed completely from scratch, the aircraft is built around a rolled carbon tube boom and a custom-built fibreglass fuselage, resulting in the lightest aircraft yet to be built at Brunel. The fuselage itself was manufactured using the resin infusion process, one never before completed at Brunel, and a handmade high-density foam mould.

A wingspan of two metres provides ample room for 12 flexible solar cells, designed to be easily capable of withstanding the stress and loading experienced within flight. These cells can be remotely engaged by the pilot to begin charging the onboard batteries, once the motor has been disengaged and the aircraft is gliding comfortably. This configuration gives the potential for near unlimited endurance in the right conditions.

Very much a multidisciplinary project, extensive knowledge of aircraft design, aerodynamics and structures was necessary, as well as knowledge of electrical systems and components to successfully integrate the solar cells into the design. Aerodynamics analysis was conducted ANSYS Fluent and XFLR5, while load analysis was conducted using ANSYS FEA software and within the aerospace laboratory.

Uniquely, the aircraft launches from a custom-built dolly allowing a considerable weight saving by excluding landing gear, yet also ensuring a stable take-off from the ground and satisfying a key requirement of the project outlined in the brief.

The aircraft has completed several successful flight tests, proving the viability of solar energy in powered flight to improve endurance, and perhaps in the future as a direct fuel source.