The highly-publicized world trip by the Solar Impulse 2 – the solar-powered, single-seater plane made with carbon fiber composites – recently received a majority of the headlines last week as it made a stop in New York City before it prepares to cross the Atlantic Ocean.
However, the Solar Impulse was not the only solar-powered composite plane to fly over New York that week. Robert Lutz flew the prototype of Calverton, N.Y.-based Luminati Aerospace LLC’s VO-Substrata for about 20 minutes over Long Island in its first test flight opened to the public. The white aircraft features wing-mounted solar cells and has a wingspan of about 43 feet.
By the end of 2016, Luminati plans to build solar-powered drones that can fly at 60,000 feet or more to serve as surveillance aircraft or communication relays. Lutz said using technologies combining solar power with wind energy harvesting and using composite materials to make ultra-light and strong aircraft will help the company’s goal to keep the drones perpetually airborne.
“I really can’t think of any engineering project today that has a greater social impact than bringing communications for many people in the world that don’t have it,” Lutz said.
Last month, Luminati Aerospace LLC announced a supply agreement with Hexcel Corporation – a global leader in developing advanced composites – that it says will improve the company’s access to innovative materials and technical support and further advance research and technology in the aerospace market.
With the agreement, Hexcel becomes the company’s sole supplier of composite materials and its “material development partner to pursue advanced aerospace materials and systems that target high-performance and multi-functional capabilities in future high-altitude long-endurance airplane designs.” While neither company has released specific details about Hexcel’s involvement in the composite applications in the VO-Substrata, this Instagram post would seem to indicate Hexcel supplied carbon fiber for the project. Hexcel’s logo is also one of the most visible logos on the plane.