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Silent Sentinel UAV to use solar power

Bye Aerospace and Ascent Solar Technologies say they're working on a quiet, low-emission hybrid drone that will fly with endurance.

An unmanned aerial vehicle that's intended to use a combination of solar power and stored electricity is being developed by Ascent Solar Technologies and Bye Aerospace, both companies announced Tuesday.

Bye Aerospace

Ascent Solar will be supplying flexible thin-film photovoltaic modules designed for Bye's drone, the Silent Sentinel.

Bye will be using a Williams International FJ33 turbofan engine that will draw power from stored electrical power in a lithium-ion battery and the photovoltaic panels on the plane.

The result will be a quiet, low-emission hybrid UAV with added endurance, according to Bye.

The Silent Sentinel is intended for military surveillance purposes, but could also be used in the commercial world for things like pipeline and power line inspection, forest fire watch, and aerial photography.

While Bye said it has had proposal meetings with U.S. government officials, no contract for the vehicle has yet been signed with the U.S. military.

Bye will not be the first to combine solar panels with a drone-type aircraft. British defense contractor Qinetiq built and tested the Zephyr, a 66-pound glider that flew an unofficial record 54 hours straight (according to Qinetiq's own report) over White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico in 2007. In early 2008, DARPA announced it was developing the Vulture, a solar-powered aircraft that would "fly" for 5 years straight, though arguably that UAV could be considered more of a satellite in orbit.