Electric Airplane Maker Unveils Solar-Charging Trailer
The German electric airplane maker PC-Aero is at the Berlin Air Show this week unveiling its latest effort towards making sport flying not only solar powered, but mobile as well. The company’s Elektra One is a single-seat electric airplane that uses both batteries and solar cells to increase the endurance during flight and is capable of flying more than 100 miles per hour.
The airplane made its first flight in 2011 in the hands of veteran test pilot Jon Karkow. Designed by Calin Gologan, the Elektra One is part of a bigger package Gologan imagines will one day lead to pilots being able to fly without needing an external power source.
PC-Aero has been touting the idea of a solar hangar that could be used to keep the Elektra One for a few years now. The design would include enough solar panels to provide 2.4 kilowatts of charging. Now the company is expanding, or at least mobilizing, the idea of a solar hangar as a power source.
The company’s new solar trailer builds on the long-standing tradition of sailplane pilots who usually store and transport their gliders in trailers. Like many electric airplane designs, the Elektra One borrows heavily from the sailplane world with high aspect ratio wings and lightweight composite structures. The wings are easily detachable, so it’s logical to keep the airplane in a trailer, eliminating the need for an expensive hangar at an airport.
The trailer is designed to have the same 2.4 kW peak power capability as the hangar. Gologan believes this kind of electricity generation could provide up to 300 hours of flying in the Elektra One per year based on the sunshine available in southern Germany (which is far from a sun-drenched desert).
Gologan is aiming for some impressive performance numbers as well. The airplane can fly at more than 100 miles per hour, but he’s hoping for a cruise speed of around 90 miles per hour and a range of up to 600 miles. Though the speed is likely to be even less in order to achieve that level of range. The company says almost half of the airplane’s power requirements will come from solar cells that are laminated into the top of the aircraft.
At last year’s NASA Green Flight Challenge, a few of the competitors did manage to fly for more than two hours while maintaining 100 miles per hour, so the goals for the Elektra One are possible. Though most electric airplanes that have flown so far aren’t quite getting the same kind of range, including the small electric powered ultra light we flew back in 2010. But recent improvements to the Elektra One including reducing the airframe weight, could help the company achieve the ambitious goals of flying for several hours at a time on electricity generated from the airplane’s own travel trailer.
PC-Aero hopes to certify the Elektra One in Germany by the end of this year.
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Solar powered aircraft have been around for a few years now and have made some incredible flights.
In 1981 Solar Challenger, designed by Paul MacCready, made the first solar-powered flight across the English Channel.
The first through the night solar flight (26 hours and 9 minutes) was made in Switzerland by Andre Borschberg in 2011 in Solar Impulse. The aircraft climbed to 28,000 feet while charging the batteries and descended slowly on reduced power until sunrise and landed after making a second climb to altitude, proving that continuous solar flight was possible.