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Skydweller Aero completes world’s first unmanned flight of large solar aircraft 

Skydweller Aero has successfully completed the world’s first unmanned flight of a large-scale solar powered aircraft.  

The aircraft, named Skydweller, took off and landed from Stennis International Airport (HSA) in the United States (US) autonomously in what CEO Robert Miller described as a “true, world-changing first”.  

Capable of perpetual flight, and with a wingspan greater than a Boeing 747, Skydweller can be deployed for long-duration missions, such as providing continuous aerial overage above conflict zones or surveilling naval activity in contested waters without risking the lives of pilots. 

“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,” Miller said on April 4, 2024, following the successful flight.   

According to Skydweller Aero, combustion-powered aircraft, including piloted aircraft and drones, are only capable of approximately 40 hours’ maximum flight time, limited by the endurance of pilots, the amount of fuel a conventional aircraft can carry, and the need for frequent maintenance.   

Miller added: “We are applying cutting-edge 21st century materials, science, artificial intelligence and software development to an industry that has spent more than 100 years building piloted, combustion-based aircraft. This allows Skydweller to leap ahead of heritage aircraft manufacturers in terms of aircraft performance, flight duration and cost effectiveness.”   

Skydweller projects that, for long duration missions, its aircraft will be 10 to 100 times cheaper to operate than conventional aircraft.    

Skydweller’s ability to stay in the air for weeks or months before returning home is already attracting interest from the military. 

“This really is a first when it comes to national security and protecting Americans,” said Senator Roger Wicker, ranking member of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, who unveiled a Skydweller aircraft to the public last month. “It really is great news and it’s only the beginning.” 

Skydweller Aero successfully completed its first autonomous flight test demonstration in February 2023. However, on that occasion a test pilot passively rode along on-board. 

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