Wednesday, 26 November 2008

HALE Aircrafts - Solar Energy in use

HALE (high altitude long endurance) aircrafts are small airplanes used in weather and atmosphere monitoring. They are unmanned aircrafts. They are remotely controlled from the ground. Having flight durations that last many days, they require a consistent energy source.

Most HALE aircrafts have a standard propulsion system (propeller engines) which is their main thrust source. However during long missions this has been a setback as the aircrafts would need to come back to Earth to refuel. This setback is time consuming and not very cost effective.

So in order to overcome this obstacle of refueling and the obvious irony of monitoring an atmosphere and desecrating at the same time, engineers have found a solution (THEY ALWAYS DO). An environmentally friendly solution. A cost and time effective solution. (If you remember from my previous post I talked about square panels called "solar panels"). YES, solar panels. Engineers decided that they needed alot of flying time and they needed to save the environment at the same time so they decided to use the Sun as an energy source. Hence, a HALE aircraft with solar panels spread out through its very long sing span. The solar panels get energy from the Sun to power the propellers used on the aircraft, and if we're lucky we would use it to power the onboard weather monitoring equipment and avions of the aircraft. This has not proven to be a big challenge for now as HALE aircrafts are very light and don't require much thrust force for take-off or maintaining level flight. In the future I suppose the developments of more efficient and cheaper solar panels could see this technology being used on everyday civil aircrafts. Until then, we would have to breathe in more and more carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide everyday. But have faith, because as I said earlier, ENGINEERS ALWAYS FIND A WAY. (an example of a HALE aircraft using solar panels is shown below, courtesy of

The Future of Environmentally Freindly Aviation

As we all know, flying things (also known as aircrafts, rockets, fighter jets etc), are the biggest contributors to emissions of greenhouse gases (definition: It was made very clear by environmentalists that an excess of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere can have stern consequences for the future of our planet. Don’t get me wrong, I am not in any way an environmentalist or a hippie; I just think it would be interesting to see how the world could switch from total-dependence on greenhouse emitting fuels to renewable energy that has very little damaging effects on our environment.

I am a student at the University of Sheffield. I’m undertaking an MSc in Aerodynamics and Aerostructures. I had the privilege to participate in a university challenge, be part of a team that will make a difference (or not) to the future of aviation (and our planet). The challenge is to design an airship (you know, those fake flying things kept airborne by a huge helium balloon) that emits no greenhouse gases whatsoever (like that’s possible). The only problem was that the only source of energy for the airship is the sun, well that’s what it said on the requirements sheet. I was shocked. How the hell are we supposed get energy from the sun. I realised that there are these flat square panels called “solar panels” (I know you know what they are, don’t try to impress me with your knowledge). It also has to fly for like 72 months (72 hours) and be capable of withstanding weather changes and turbulence.

So there you have it. An environmentally-friendly, no-greenhouse gases-emitting, ugly flying thing (airship). I honestly think that it’s possible. What do you think? And what does this mean to the future of aviation. Will we have to make a compromise between how fast we get to where we’re going and how fresh the air we breathe is? Will we have to travel using balloons? (that’s a problem, it’s not a very manly thing). In the future not everyone will be able to afford modern day travelling, plane tickets will be ridiculously expensive as fuel prices soar.

One last problem, imagine this. Let’s say we reached a point in the future where we would be punished (by our earth) for our decadent ways, the way we abused oil, the way we neglected our environment, the way we’d rather drive a 6L V12 engine car than a small electric powered one. Let’s say that we were “forced” to only consume renewable energy, could you imagine how the wars would be like. Commander: “launch the airstrike”, then from the horizon we see a flock of flying things (future fighter jets), approaching slowly, very slowly. Then they finally appear in sight, it’s the “Airship Task Force”, 10’s of airships flying through the air with guns and rocket launchers attached to them. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?? You can drop one of them with a rock. I mean what kind of war would that be, the less developed country being invaded by this airship army would most certainly win. We don’t want less developed countries to win now do we? I’m joking. (If anyone was offended by the above paragraph, it was strictly a joke, don’t take it to heart J )

What I’m trying to say is this, by the way things are going, the future is only bright for those who can afford it. I say with enough research and contingency planning we can replace modern day fuels with renewable fuels to an extent that is affordable by everyone.