Solar-powered plane concepts typically focus on high-efficiency glider-type designs, so as to make the best possible use of the limited power available from the sun. [rctestflight] wanted to try a different school of thought, instead building a relatively inefficient plane that nonetheless packed a huge amount of solar panels on board.
The plane consisted of a pizza-box style design, with a simple foam rectangular wing that was absolutely covered in solar panels. The plane was controlled with an off-the-shelf autopilot, and fitted with cheap, no-brand MPPT modules to handle charging the batteries. The plane faced difficulties in flight, most often with stability, which led to the autopilot getting the plane lost on one occasion. However, one flight was achieved with a full one hour and thirty minute duration, indicating the solar panels were helping to extend flight times beyond what was capable with batteries alone.
Further research on the ground showed that the cheap MPPT modules were wasting power, and there was more to be had. A better MPPT module was subbed in and showed that the panels could generate up to 5 amps under good conditions, while the plane only needed roughly 4.2 amps to fly. This would allow for indefinite flight in sunny conditions, though probably would not allow enough energy to be banked to fly 24 hours round the clock due to the lack of power at night.
We’ve followed [rctestflight]’s solar plane experiments for a while now, and can’t wait to see the next iteration. Video after the break.