China's Solar-Powered Drone Caihong (CH-T4) Attains new High

By Prei Dy, | June 07, 2017

China's solar-powered drone has unlocked a new milestone, flying at an altitude of more than 20,000 kilometers. (YouTube)

China's solar-powered drone has unlocked a new milestone, flying at an altitude of more than 20,000 kilometers. (YouTube)

China's largest solar powered drone, the "Caihong-T4" (CH-T4), just set domestic record after flying at an altitude of over 20,000 meters in what appears to be a secretive test flight.

The 130-foot-wide machine Caihong, meaning Rainbow, is powered by eight propellers using renewable energy tech. It could fly on over 65,000 feet for days and reach a speed of up to 125 miles per hour. Built by the Chinese Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics, the super lightweight CH-T4 features a double body fuselage, cracked wing, and twin tail.

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Despite its huge size, it only weighs between 880 and 1,100 pounds, thanks to the carbon fiber and plastic components used on the aircraft. The CH-T4 has a flight time design goal of several months, with minimal human supervision. At night, the drone will utilize onboard batteries as its source of power.

Despite reaching a significant milestone, it will still take some years before the aircraft is ready for real use. But creators are expecting that the Caihong, in the future, could stay in the air for months, or even years at a time at extremely high altitudes.

However, China's CH-T4 only ranks second place to NASA Helios Prototype, another solar-powered craft with a 246-foot wingspan, in terms of size and flight altitude.  

The country's project on long-duration drones parallel work at DARPA and tech firms such as Facebook. Tech such as this could be useful in the military as it plays an excellent platform for surveillance missions against military and terrorists targets as its high flight ceiling could maintain a line-of-sight contact and visual coverage of more than 400,000 square miles, which is about the size of Egypt.

For the militaries and tech firms, covering a vast territory could play a perfect relay and communications node. This will allow the drone to replace or support satellite communications, maintain coverage between distant aircraft and ships, and supply broadband to rural households in China.

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