This year we saw a solar-powered plane circumnavigate the globe and a solar-powered boat gear up to do the same. As of last week, we can add to that list of clean energy marvels the first-ever piloted flight of a solar-powered helicopter.
A team of undergraduates at the University of Maryland has developed a four-rotor helicopter equipped with an array of solar panels. The craft took to the air for nine seconds, lifting more than a foot off of the ground. (By point of comparison, the Wright Brothers’ first flight lasted just 12 seconds.)
The team that built the aircraft previously achieved the longest-ever flight of a human-powered helicopter. (Eat your heart out, Leonardo da Vinci.) Either tired from pedaling or low on carbs, they turned their sights to the sun. Their new invention builds off of the previous design, but it requires a lot less legwork.
“This project has come a long way in the past six or seven years from human-power to solar-power,” said University of Maryland PhD candidate William Staruk, who assisted with the flight. “So we are breaking barriers of all sorts in aviation with this one airframe, and we are very proud of that work here at the University of Maryland.”