The Italian defense manufacturer Leonardo has invested in Spanish-US solar-powered aircraft devloper Skydweller Aero Inc.
In 2016 solar powered aircrafts Solar Impulse 2 successfully circumnavigated the globe without fossil fuel. In November 2019 the manned Solar Impulse 2 was being converted as an unmanned aircraft for Skydweller . The startup presumably formed by UAV experts from Northrop Grumman .
Leonardo gave no financial details of the deal . Airbus & Boeing have looked at solar-powered aircraft . However, development has been hampered by issues such as installing solar panels that generate enough power for flight without adding too much weight to the aircraft .
The Skydweller Drone could carry 140–360 kg payload up to 45,000 ft for up to 90 Days . Its have a wingspan of 236 feet and have maximum speed 140 km per hour .
According to Leonardo press release the drone expected to begin autonomous flights next year .
” The first phase focuses on converting the aircraft from a manned platform into an Optionally-Piloted Vehicle (OPV) by integrating advanced autonomy algorithms and vehicle management systems. The second step of the project will culminate in the first production aircraft, designed solely for unmanned operations and hardened against a range of environmental conditions. Autonomous flights of the OPV are projected for 2020 and the first production model of the unmanned version of the aircraft is expected in 2021. ”
This UAV will be used for land and maritime surveillance , industrial geo-information services to telecommunications.