Skydweller Aero flies first solar-powered, large autonomous aircraft

By Vanessa Montalbano / April 4, 2024 at 11:32 AM

Skydweller Aero recently flew an unmanned, solar-powered and large-scale aircraft out of Stennis International Airport in Mississippi, according to a news release the company issued today.

The net-zero aircraft, dubbed Skydweller, can remain in the air for three months, or roughly 90 days, at an altitude of up to 45,000 feet, the aerospace company said. It is the first aircraft of its kind -- with a wingspan larger than that of a Boeing 747 -- that can take off, fly and land independently without assistance from a crew either on-board or in a remote location, it added.

“Our fleet of uncrewed aircraft will enable a multitude of long-duration missions that support national security and non-terrestrial communications with revolutionary cost savings,” Robert Miller, Skydweller’s chief executive, said in a statement.

In the release the company said Skydweller can complete several missions with one aircraft over large spans of time, while conventional combustion engine aircraft are typically limited to about 40 hours of perpetual flight time and require constant maintenance.

Part of the appeal attached to the solar-powered aircraft, Skydweller said, is that it would no longer deliberately place flight crews in hostile environments.

“A Skydweller aircraft can take off from the United States, fly itself to the South China Sea, and stay in the air on mission for weeks or months before returning home,” the company wrote. “Additionally, autonomy enables not just traditional long-duration missions, but also new missions that would have formerly been deemed unacceptable due to risk to the flight crew.”

The carbon neutral aircraft may also be used to collect long-term intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance above conflict zones, observe naval activity in contested waters and track illegal activity, including drug smuggling or wildlife poaching, according to Skydweller.

“This really is a first when it comes to national security and protecting Americans,” Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS), ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said. “It really is great news and it’s only the beginning.”