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Air Platforms

Solar-electric Cai Hong UAV conducts stratospheric flight

26 June 2017
CASC's Cai Hong solar-electric UAV prototype seen at an undisclosed airfield in northwest China. Source: via Xinhua

China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) completed a 15 hour, nea-space flight mission on 24 May with a solar-electric unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) prototype, achieving an operating altitude of 20,000 m (65,616 ft), state media reported in mid-June.

The indigenously developed prototype - built by CASC subsidiary China Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics (CAAA) - is presently identified as the Cai Hong (CH, or Rainbow) solar UAV, although it has been also been referred to as the CH-T4 by local media.

The Cai Hong's airframe comprises a pair of slender fuselages that support high-mounted wings measuring 45 m in span, with taper and dihedral on outer panels and terminating in an empennage with vertical rudders. Eight electric motors enable it to achieve cruise speeds of 150-200 km/h, drawing power from fuel cells that are recharged by solar panel arrays covering the entire upper section of the wings.

CASC officials have been quoted as stating that the solar-powered UAV, when fully developed, will serve as a "quasi-satellite" providing affordable long-distance broadband 4G/5G data communications relay services over austere regions that lack terrestrial broadcast or fixed networks. It is also envisioned to be capable of forestry and agricultural surveying, as well as early warning and real-time monitoring of disasters.

Other company officials have noted that such long-endurance platforms could also have military applications, including persistent intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) as well as airborne early warning (AEW) and signals intelligence (SIGINT).

Further details on the prototype remain undisclosed, but Jane's sources said it is capable of carrying "dozens of kilogrammes" of mission payloads at its present state of development.

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