Kraków students build solar powered airplane

Jacek Bednarczyk/PAP

Students from Kraków's AGH University of Science and Technology have become the first students in Poland to build a solar powered aircraft. Its maiden flight took place on Wednesday at the Polish Aviation Museum in Kraków.

Due to high winds the plane finally took to the skies after a one hour delay. While landing, the aircraft was damaged. One of the builders of the plane, Jan Kostecki, told PAP that the damage was minor and will have no influence on further testing of the machine.

The AGH Solar Plane team, made up of over 50 students of the University, worked on the construction of the aircraft for one year.

"From what we know, Polish students have never built such a machine, one which functions in this way (solar powered - PAP), although there are designs for such constructions," the project's caretaker Krzysztof Sornek told PAP.

The unmanned aircraft, which can fly to a height of 1 km above the ground and glides thanks to solar energy, weighs 4.5 kg. The red and white painted construction is made from model makers Balsa wood and carbon fibre. The wingspan of the plane is 3.8 m and it has a total length of 2.11 m. The whole unit is powered by a 750 watt engine, and each wing contains 24 photovoltaic cells with an total output of 184 watts.

The aircraft came about with the idea of undertaking long-distance flights, due to the fact that it gathers solar energy during daylight hours, via the photovoltaic cells, and can then fly during the night by using the stored energy. The pilotless unit is controlled by remote-control from the ground.

Kostecki pointed out that the AGH Solar Plane project is in the development stage. The team are already working on a second plane which will have a 6 m wingspan. The students hope that the larger aircraft, expected to be completed next year, will fly the entire length of Poland's eastern border, from the Bieszczady Mountains to the Baltic Sea. Kostecki revealed that they already "have an air corridor assigned by the Civil Aviation Authority" for the long-distance flight.

The project is being funded by AGH and other sponsors. In September, the first machine will take part in an unmanned aerial vehicle competition in Turkey.