Italian defense company Leonardo has invested in Skydweller Aero Inc., a US/Spanish start-up specializing in the development of large-scale solar-powered unmanned air systems.
The initiative will result in the development and deployment of the Skydweller drone, the world’s first fully electric unmanned aircraft capable of carrying large payloads with unlimited range and ultra-persistent endurance.
The Skydweller project builds on a proven and mature aircraft that successfully circumnavigated the globe in 2016.
“As the key technological investor and partner of the project, Leonardo will broaden its capabilities in new power systems, autonomous flight, innovative aerostructures, ultra-light materials and eco-friendly technologies, ” commented Alessandro Profumo, CEO of Leonardo.
Thanks to its unique features, Skydweller combines potentially unlimited persistence and range with the flexibility of an aircraft.
It will operate from existing airbases around the world, deploy thousands of miles away to areas of high need, and remain overhead for orders of magnitude longer than current aircraft. This platform will be used for purposes ranging from land and maritime surveillance to monitoring the environment and infrastructure, from industrial geo-information services to telecommunications and precision navigation. During emergencies and disaster-recovery situations, the system can be rapidly deployed from distant locations to provide backup communications and direct support to first responders.
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.
Development and construction of the aircraft will be carried out at the Skydweller facility in the Castilla-La Mancha region of Spain.