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Aerospace Solar Powered Helicopter?

  1. Mar 5, 2009 #1
    I am not sure if this is the right place to ask but I was wondering if anybody could help me. Basically I have picked a 'solar powered helicopter' (real helicopter, not a toy one) to do a project about at school. I know this is probably impossible but I have to research about it and how I would design it.

    Some of the things I need to know are:
    How much power does a helicopter need to take it off the ground? and could this power be made from solar panels?
    What is the lightest material to make a helicoper from?

    Any ideas and suggestions about a helicopter that runs on solar power would be brilliant, even if it is not possible all the technical information I can get would be great.

    Thanks Very Much.

    Edit: Or any other way to make a more 'eco-friendly' helicopter?
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2009
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 5, 2009 #2


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    Pick a couple of helicopter models of different sizes
    Major makers with specs on their website (eg http://www.agustawestland.com/ http://www.sikorsky.com)
    Find the engine power required
    Now find the watt/m^2 for a typical solar panel.
    Then work out how many m^2 you would need for that engine power

    Can you fit that onto the helicopter?
    What about how much of the panel is facing the sun - what proportion of the surface of the helicopter would be pointing toward the sun.
    what would these paenls do to the aerodynamics?
  4. Mar 6, 2009 #3
    To answer your question, no. The power requirements are simply too great. For a 16,000 lb weight class helicopter, see: Blackhawk, you are looking at around 1000 shaft horsepower in cruise and 1,500 shaft horsepower in hover.

    NO WAY are you going to get that from solar panels. Your paper should explain all the reasons why it is not possible to have a solar powered helicopter.
    Last edited: Mar 6, 2009
  5. Mar 6, 2009 #4


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    Didn't NASA / Burt Rutan do some stuff on solar-powered airplanes? They were really meant more for near-stationary / local satellite applications though, and weren't at all fast.
    http://www.pvresources.com/en/helios.php [Broken]

    EDIT: And not really meant to be crewed, either
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  6. Mar 6, 2009 #5
    Look, I agree that is very improbable, but let's give this at least a little bit of chance. That way, when you write your report you can explain why it wouldn't work, but with some design changes why it could work or what it's limitations would have to be before it would work.

    Cyrus, you're speaking about converting a modern helicopter to be powered by solar panels, which is of course ludicrous, but redesigning a chopper to work from solar power might be possible. Like Matlabdude says, there are solar powered aircraft in development. They're just used for different applications and for now, defininitely not for personal transport.

    Apachee, can you also tell us what your design goals are? Do you want a chopper that can carry people, or will it be a slightly smaller and lighter UAV taht can be used for observation, for exmple.
  7. Mar 6, 2009 #6


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    Airplanes have a lot more surface area than helicopters. Apachee, try to think about where you would even put solar panels on a helicopter: by their very nature, they don't have a lot of horizontal surfaces except for the rotor.

    If there is still time, you may want to consider looking for a different project.
    Last edited: Mar 6, 2009
  8. Mar 6, 2009 #7
    good point Russ.

    To Apachee: in your report, maybe you could compare different types of aircraft and their advantages/disadvantages for use with solar power in relation to a helicopter.
  9. Mar 6, 2009 #8


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    You could make a helicopter fuselage that weighed next to nothing. You would still not be able to generate enough power to lift a human being. Come to think of it, I think the weight of the solar panels themselves would be too much.
  10. Mar 6, 2009 #9
    Sorry, nope. Unless they can get the energy density of solar panels way, way up. Good luck.
  11. Mar 6, 2009 #10
    Ok, Thanks to all.

    So if it was to be an un-manned helicopter would this be more likely to achieve?

    and Fred: How could I make the fuselage next to nothing, what material would I use?

    Last edited: Mar 6, 2009
  12. Mar 6, 2009 #11


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    Next to nothing would mean something along the lines of thin walled aluminum tubing or even carbon fiber, etc...Again, the structure would have to be capable of supporting the weight of the solar power components and powertrain as well as withstand dynamic loads from the rotor system.
  13. Mar 6, 2009 #12


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    Try the method outlined in post #2 and calculate for yourself what it would take in terms of wattage and solar panel size. Then you'll better understand what you're up against. You might try using this UAV copter a basis, it's nice and small and light: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OH-58_Kiowa Its engine has an output of 236 kW.

    More important than the helicpoter itself, though, is for you to get a feel for just how much (little) power a solar panel will give you.
  14. Mar 6, 2009 #13
    Even assuming enough solar power could be generated to yield lift for the helicopter, the fluctuation in available solar energy production as you pass through cloud cover would tend to make it somewhat unstable, if not impossible to control to the degree necessary to ensure safety.

    A helicopter simply isn't a good candidate for present solar technology as its sole source of energy for lift however, I would not state that it cannot be done if built from the ground up. I do view it as presently impractical and you wouldn't catch me flying in one, but then, I wouldn't fly in a regular helicopter unless I was heavily medicated. :biggrin:
  15. Mar 6, 2009 #14
    Well i typed out a big calculation, and timed out on submit, so here again in brief.

    Managed to figure its possible with a R/C heli, but under a different condition.

    Fly till batt is dead, then recharge. Would take 8 hours to recharge to get a 48 min flight, normal is only 8 mins so a 600% increase. Use solar panels to recharge battery.

    Its possible to get all power from solar, but only panels i found that could do this weighed over 2x the max lift.

    So could look into getting blades with more lift, more efficient motor, more efficient panels, lighter panels, lighter air-frame.

    So try finding model helicoptors and finding draw/drain and then match to solar panels, you may strike lucky and find a combination that works.

    On a real heli basis, think its ott and wont work at all. The size panels you'll need are going to cost a forture, weight loads and loads, and increase drag to a stupid level. And i think it just wouldnt fly at all.

    But in R/C terms, it seems possible with that break to recharge.
  16. Mar 6, 2009 #15

    I'm sorry. This is nothing but speculation. Please don't post speculation.
  17. Mar 9, 2009 #16
    No way to make a solar helicopter! Often the solar power it is used on the satellite for some utilities, they have some UAV for high altitude flight working with solar power.
    But I think is not possible make an aircraft or helicopter powered by solar propulsion!
  18. Mar 9, 2009 #17

    Ivan Seeking

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    Technically, all helicopters are solar powered; as is anything that uses petro. :biggrin:
  19. Mar 12, 2009 #18
    I was thinking along the same lines.

    Grow a lot of sunflowers, harvest their oil, run your Diesel helicopter engine on Bio-fuel/sunflower seed oil.
  20. Mar 12, 2009 #19


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    You can make solar powered aircraft that fly rather well

  21. Mar 12, 2009 #20
    Right, now I have written a report about why it will NOT work.

    I have changed my project and now I am investigating a 'eco friendly' Helicopter. The ideas I have is to maybe use solar power for some of the electronics, make it as lightweight as possible, and also use a more efficient fuel of some sort.

    The thing I need to know is: What fuel do most Helicopters now run on? What type of fuel is the most efficient and environmentally friendly? What type of engine will be the best to use? (I don't really know about this type of thing)

    Any other ideas would be brilliant too.

    Thanks so much for helping me.
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