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Solar-powered UAS provides “silent operation”

Tue, 05/13/2014 - 3:51pm
Jason Lomberg, Technical Editor

Imagine a flying Prius (in electric mode) with all the blather of a mime and you’ve got the Silent Falcon sUAS. This solar-powered small unmanned aerial system (sUAS) was one of the cooler wares on display at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) Unmanned Systems 2014 in sunny Orlando, Florida.

Unmanned systems are renowned for their lethality, particularly in asymmetrical warfare, hunting down and eliminating high-value targets, and providing close-air support. But one thing they’re not is quiet — most of our combat-ready UAVs use turboprop engines, which announce their presence to everyone within a large radius.

The Silent Falcon solar-powered sUAS, as seen at AUVSI’s Unmanned Systems 2014.

This presents a dilemma for traditional Intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions, where silence is vital. Enter the Silent Falcon which, according to the company, can “Fly silent, fly longer, see more”.

The Silent Falcon solar-powered sUAS provides silent operation down to 200 feet above ground level (AGL), with a flight ceiling of 20,000 feet. It sports a range up to 50 km (with optional base station antenna) and an endurance of 5-12 hours, depending on wing configuration and weather (which can adversely affect flight time up to 30%).

For night ops, the endurance drops to about 50%, from 3-5 hours. The sUAS uses thin-film photovoltaic (TFPV) solar energy collection and LiPo batteries for energy storage.

Speed is a modest 32-112 km/h, but its low profile (wingspan up to 5.1 meters, depending on configuration, and length of 2 meters) and silent operation ensures it won’t be seen or heard.

A company rep noted that the Silent Falcon is currently in the demo phase and will be targeting commercial, civil, public safety, and ISR applications. And while they’re not wooing the DoD just yet, one could easily fathom military applications for a silent, solar-powered UAV.

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