Bye Aerospace announced Aug. 20 a successful first flight for a solar-electric aircraft created with surveillance and patrol missions in mind.
The company founded by CEO George Bye hopes to be the first to certify an American-made electric airplane, the Sun Flyer, which was designed to reduce the cost of flight training and prove that electric propulsion is a viable alternative to petroleum-based fuels in general aviation. The mission of the Solar-Electric Survey Aircraft, or SOLESA, is somewhat different, Bye explained in an email, though the two platforms share many components and systems.
The first flight of SOLESA took place on July 31 at Northern Colorado Regional Airport, which offers an 8,500-foot runway that is well-suited to a flight test plan that included short hops to confirm the handling characteristics, control rigging, and system performance before moving on to longer flights, Bye wrote.
SOLESA looks very much like a typical touring motorglider, and Bye Aerospace is also working on an unmanned variant called StratoAirNet, which will have a narrower forward fuselage that reduces weight and drag, Bye noted. “However, the aerodynamics, structures, systems, solar cells are all the same/similar.”
Both aircraft are being created to serve military and government customers, as well as commercial operators who need medium-altitude, long-endurance aircraft equipped with cameras or other sensors. (SOLESA will also function as a test platform for new payloads.) The company noted in the Aug. 20 press release that both offer several advantages over traditional manned and unmanned aircraft created for these missions, including lower cost and reduced noise and heat emissions.
Bye Aerospace is working with SolAero Technologies, a New Mexico-based firm that produces solar cells for various aerospace applications, including spacecraft.