In the latest scorching sci-fi movie ‘Sunshine’ set in the backdrop of the year 2057, the ‘real space age’ humans deliver a thermonuclear payload into the dying Sun in hope to bring it back to life. While writing this post, I feel a little contented that the time is still ripe for me to share these incredible ideas with flights of fancy powered by none other than the Sun. The technology behind solar powered aircraft is still in its infancy, we’ll have to wait for quite a lot of time to see them available commercially. Till then check out these birds: 12. SUNSEEKER Designer: Eric Raymond Eric gave shape to Sunseeker after years of hard work, changes and innovations on wings of Larry Mauro’s SOLAR RISER, Paul MacCready’s SOLAR CHALLENGER, and Gunther Rochelt’s MUSCULAIR II. The project kicked off in 1986 and was given the final shape in 1989-90 with help of Sanyo and other corporations. 11. SOLONG Designer: AC Propulsion Type: UAV Weight: 10.8 kg ‘SoLong’ stands apart by flying continuously for over 24 hours by battery and solar power. 10. Solar-Powered Robot Bird Designer: University of Missouri-Rolla Flying Altitude: 30,000 to 40,000 feet Unique features: World’s first flapping-wing unmanned solar aircraft This solar-powered bird is literally an eagle and apparently is world’s first flapping-wing unmanned aircraft that runs on solar energy. Designed by researchers at the University of Missouri-Rolla with the help of NASA, the aircraft uses thin-film solar arrays and special shape changing material hence making it more flexible and efficient than the Mars Rovers. It can regain its altitude, up to 30,000 to 40,000 feet, by simply flapping its wings and is a perfect flying machine to inspect outer space. 9. SOLITAIR Designer: DLR Institute of Flight Systems Wingspan: 5.2-meter SOLITAIR or Solar Powered Aircraft for High Altitude Long Endurance Flight, is another unmanned, solar powered aircraft or a satellite to be precise, is specifically designed to conduct research activities in northern European latitude. 8. SKY-SAILOR Designer: Swiss Federal institute of Technology Zurich Unique features: Prototype designed for future space search, especially Mars Weight: 2.6 kg Wingspan: 3.2 meters Sky-Sailor was in fact the first step towards designing a feasible solar powered aircraft to study Mars under collaboration with European Space Agency. It is equipped with 216 silicone solar cells delivering up to 90 W of energy. 7. SOLAR CHALLENGER Designer: AeroVironment, Dupont Corporation Weight: 90 kg Wingspan: 14.3 meters Flying Altitude: 12,000 feet Solar Challenger is an improved version of ‘Gossamer Penguin’, designed to fly from Paris to England. The aircraft can reach an altitude of 12,000 feet equipped with 16,128 photovoltaic cells giving a tremendous output power of 2,600 watts. Its success gave way to High Altitude Solar (HALSOL) drone project. 6. PATHFINDER PLUS Designer: AeroVironment, NASA Unique features: Telecommunication platform Flying Altitude: 24470.868 meters Pathfinder Plus is an improved version of Pathfinder and holds a record for touching highest altitude of 24470.868 meters (80, 285 feet). It’s part of NASA’s Environmental Research Aircraft and Sensor Technology (ERAST) and is actually a stratospheric satellite designed to study atmospheric chemical make-up. It combines technologies used to develop Pathfinder, Centurion and Helios solar powered aircrafts. The aircraft also acts as a telecommunications platform that surfs through the stratosphere to deliver wireless broadband, re-transmitted high definition television (HDTV) signal and relay cellular audio and video calls. 5. ZEPHYR Designer: QinetiQ Weight: 14 kg Wingspan: 12 meter Speed: 70 meters per second (155 mph) Zephyr, along with solar power, uses ‘low drag aerodynamics’ to fly for months at an altitude of 132,000 feet. It’s yet another high altitude communication platform with a 12-meter solar cells equipped wingspan churning out 1 kW of power to five motors that drag it to 70 metres per second (155 mph). 4. CENTURION Designer: AeroVironment, NASA Flying Altitude: 100,000 feet Speed: 12.5 mph Centurion takes solar powered aircraft technology to news heights with ultralight flying wing equipped with multiple electric motors that takes it to an altitude of 100,000 feet at 12.5 miles per hour. AeroVironment developed this project along with NASA’s Environmental Research Aircraft and Sensor Technology (ERAST) program, which is sponsored by NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, CA. 3. HELIOS Designer: NASA Speed: 27 mph Wingspan: 247-foot The Helios, though not with us now as it crashed in June 2003, still qualifies for this list with its top cruising speed of 27 mph and the 247-foot wingspan, which in fact is even greater than a 747 Jumbo Jet, 62,000 solar cells and 14 brushless direct-current electric motors. 2. PLANET SOLAR Designer: PlanetSolar PlanetSolar is the most geeky solar powered aircraft designed with a purpose. It’s designed like a swan with a long white beak projecting out of a three-hulled body, equivalent to a trimaran, and powered by 1,930 square feet of solar panels. Sill under construction, it will challenge Swiss explorer and scientist Bertrand Piccard by first circumnavigating Earth on solar power challenging natural forces and testing the ultimate machine. 1. SOLAR IMPULSE Designer: Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Bertrand Piccard Flying Altitude: 10 Km Wingspan: 70-meter Solar Impulse too aims to circumnavigate the Earth. The single-pilot solar-powered aircraft comes with 2,700 square feet of monocrystalline solar cells. For those who don’t know, Bertrand Piccard was the first to go around the world on balloon non-stop. Solar Impulse is a glider completely dressed with solar cells and has a whopping 70-meter wingspan. The plane will fly at 10 km altitude non-stop powered by two tail-mounted propeller engines. UPDATE Pls Note: As truly pointed out by a few of our readers, the PlanetSolar, mentioned at No. 2, is not a solar powered aircraft, rather it’s a boat powered by renewable energies.