The end of the world might not be nigh, but the end of the year is, which means it's time once again for our annual look back at some of the most outrageous examples of new technology to have crossed our desk during 2012. So be as naughty or nice as you like, because even the most eloquent of letters written to Santa Claus won't elicit a response if any of these items appear in the fine print.
Piloted solar flight has been a reality for some time, with even international flights
now possible. Up to this point, such voyages have been a strictly solo affair, however the team originally responsible for the Sunseeker II
intends to change this by manufacturing what’s billed as the world’s first two-seater solar aircraft – a motor glider named the Sunseeker Duo.
The last time we caught up with electric vehicle pioneer Chip Yates, he was in the latter stages of his pilot training that would allow him to fly a yet-to-be-designed electric aircraft from New York to Paris along the same route taken by Charles Lindbergh. Having already claimed the crown for the world's fastest electric motorcycle in 2011, he has now stamped his seal on the title of first manned electric airplane to break the 200 mph barrier in level flight.
Late last year, DARPA researchers upped the standard two-hour endurance of Lockheed Martin’s Stalker small unmanned aerial system (UAS) by a factor of four using a propane-fueled compact solid oxide fuel cell
(SOFC). Now the flight time of the aircraft has been improved by a whopping 2,400 percent, with a test flight lasting more than 48 hours using a laser power system to wirelessly transfer power to the UAS from the ground.
Last April, we told you about the FlyNano
– a single-occupant petrol/electric microlight amphibious aircraft being developed by a Finnish aeronautical firm of the same name. At the time, some readers expressed skepticism, rightly pointing out that there was no video of the plane actually flying. That changed this week, however, as the company posted a video of one of the prototype’s first test flights.
Eighty five years ago, Charles Lindbergh became the first pilot to successfully fly from New York to Paris non-stop, claiming a substantial cash prize and securing a place in history in the process. Now another world record holder, Chip Yates, has announced plans to take on the same aviation challenge ... but this time the aircraft making the 3,600 mile non-stop flight will be all-electric. The ambitious project is still in its early stages but the Flight of the Century team has already developed a patent-pending battery deployment solution to replenish depleted batteries while the aircraft is in flight.
Volta Volaré has begun taking orders for its four-seater GT4 hybrid private aircraft it calls "the most technologically advanced private aircraft available anywhere on Earth." Though the GT4 is perfectly capable of taking off and flying powered only electrically, a gas engine starts when the airplane's battery drops to 25 percent capacity in order to recharge it mid-flight. Surprisingly, perhaps, Volta Volaré makes a strong economic case for the GT4. Because the powertrain has only one moving part - the motor or "EViation Drive" - the company claims the need for maintenance is reduced significantly, offering increases in TBO (time between overhaul) by up to a factor of ten when compared to a combustion engine.
After its successful inaugural Paris-to-Brussels flight
last year, the Solar Impulse
solar-powered aircraft will attempt to fly all the way to Morocco in May or June of this year, a journey almost ten times the distance, and its furthest flight and as a close as it has yet come to a trial run of its round-the-world flight planned for 2014.
There's no doubt that satellites have become an essential part of our daily lives, making things like communications, navigation, weather forecasting, and remote imaging all possible. Unfortunately, the orbiting objects can be very expensive, both to build and to launch into outer space. For some of the functions that they carry out, however, an actual satellite isn't required - a high altitude, long endurance (HALE
) aircraft could also get the job done, and at a much lower cost. Some such aircraft have been powered by conventional fuel
, and hydrogen
. On November 13th, though, the Electric High Altitude Solar Powered Aircraft (ELHASPA) joined the ranks of HALE aircraft to fly using nothing but the power of the Sun.
By now, most readers are probably pretty familiar with quadracopters
- small hovering unmanned electric aircraft, which get their lift from a set of four propellers. Well, make the whole thing larger, boost the number of propellers (and accompanying motors) to 16, and you get what German aircraft developer e-volo calls a multicopter. While the company has previously demonstrated unmanned drones, on October 21st it accomplished what it claims is a world first - a manned flight.