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Is there any hang glider with solar sheets on top that can charge the e-trike or the e-Lift's battery in flight ? Just like the Sunseeker...

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I think you've got your terminology crossed here (but it's not your fault - your sources don't seem to clear on it either).

A hang glider is by definition a solar vehicle: They're non-motorized, and the pilot keeps them aloft by seeking thermal lift (created by the sun shining on the ground and heating it up) or ridge lift (created by wind striking the side of a mountain/hill (ridge) and being deflected up.
Both of these rely on the sun (either directly heating the local ground, or unevenly heating various parts of the Earth's surface, ultimately creating wind).

What you're referring to would be a solar-powered ultralight aircraft -- basically a hang glider with a motor strapped to it, or possibly an electric powered paraglider.


One could conceivably create a solar-powered ultralight using flexible solar cells on the wing - in fact a little Googling reveals that it has apparently been done with an electric paramotor (a type of powered parachute) (A little more Googling reveals this wasn't as cool as I previously thought - they seem to have been using a support vehicle to recharge their battery packs (with solar cells).

As far as I'm aware no such vehicle is commercially available at this time (May 2014), but the materials and technology to construct such a vehicle are certainly available (the folks over at the Experimental Aircraft Association could probably provide guidance on building something like this), and it wouldn't surprise me if commercial or kit-build solar ultralights become available at some point in the future.

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  • $\begingroup$ I wish they had posted a clear image of the solar paraglider... $\endgroup$ – Ayan Mullick May 30 '14 at 9:16
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    $\begingroup$ @AyanMullick I did a little digging and it turns out that solar paraglider isn't as cool as I thought it was (they didn't mount panels on the wing or cage - they hard a support vehicle doing the charging). The principle of solar cells on the wing still seems sound though (effectively making the vehicle a motor glider - charge the batteries while the motor isn't running, draw from them when it is). $\endgroup$ – voretaq7 May 31 '14 at 18:29
  • $\begingroup$ @voretaq7: i'm trying to define the relation between a paraglider and solar energy. Is the definition of solar vehicle actually correct? Wikipedia defines a solar vehicle as one that can use solar energy directly. A hang glider or a paraglider can't directly convert the sun energy. It happens on the earth's surface. $\endgroup$ – mxlian Aug 20 '15 at 9:05
  • $\begingroup$ @mxlian I am deliberately using the term imprecisely in my answer, but if you want to get really pedantic about the definition I would argue that the Wikipedia article is wrong in its premise: The only true "solar vehicles" are ones using solar sails. Anything else is doing some kind of conversion (and if conversion is OK at that point we're just artificially constraining the definition so it doesn't include an engine powered by Jet-A refined from oil made from dinosaurs that ate plants that grew because of sunlight millions of years ago :) ) $\endgroup$ – voretaq7 Aug 20 '15 at 15:56
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    $\begingroup$ @voretaq7, I think the definition is that conversion is allowed as long as it is happening on board, which sounds reasonably self-consistent to me. $\endgroup$ – Jan Hudec Sep 17 '15 at 19:08
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I don't believe it can be done. The area of a tandem wing isn't large enough. With solar power at 1kW per square meter that will be 15 horse power but the conversion efficiency is not 100%. It is more like 20% so you are looking at 3 horse power. A typical trike needs a minimum of a 25 horse power motor. For example the electric Icaro uses a 10kW motor and it's not even Tandem. The wing area would only be enough to provide 20% of the needed power.

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Solar power on Earth peaks at somewhere between 400W and 1.3kW per square metre, in theory, at midday.

In practice, we can typically expect more like 40-70% of this to be available due to inefficiencies in the solar panels and the fact the wing wouldn't be pointing directly at the sun. This is discounting clouds, and only at midday. At any other time, the amount available is lower.

Taking the best case scenario (1.3kW at midday at the equator, 70% available) then we still only have ~910 watts, or a little over 1.2 horsepower, per m^2

Let's take a typical hang glider: a Wills Wing Alpha 210 has 19 square metres of wing area. That would give 17 kW, or 22.5 BHP. In theory, that's more than enough to get a microlight into the air, if you can keep the weight of the battery, motor, and solar panels down.

In practice, though, are you really going to be flying at the equator, with your wings perfectly level, at midday?

And more importantly, are you really going to get a 17kW motor, 20 m^2 of solar panels, wires, and a battery (pretty much required) into the weight of a hang glider that weighs, itself, less than a typical person?

It's theoretically possible to make some kind of small ultralight type aircraft solar powered, but probably not until we find a way to make lighter motors and lighter solar panels that can take advantage of the wing area without causing weight/stability issues

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  • $\begingroup$ By solar hang glider I mean ; 1. the hang glider would take off on its fully charged battery 2. It'd have solar panels on the wing that would charge the battery while one is soaring with the engine off and also in normal cruise flight. How substantially would that improve the endurance of that machine.. $\endgroup$ – Ayan Mullick Apr 27 '16 at 23:37
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    $\begingroup$ If you're just looking to use the battery to extend the range then that's more feasible - but the weight of batteries, solar panels and motors, even if the solar panel area required is reduced, would still be significant. Hard to say exactly, but I'd still put it under the 'not quite feasible yet' category $\endgroup$ – Jon Story Apr 28 '16 at 1:22
  • $\begingroup$ Even with these light weight flexible panels....? $\endgroup$ – Ayan Mullick Apr 30 '16 at 0:21
  • $\begingroup$ Even if we believe their claims on the capabilities of those panels, which seem... Astounding... You'd still need well over 100 of their largest panel to power an ultralight $\endgroup$ – Jon Story Apr 30 '16 at 1:22
  • $\begingroup$ But with just the wing area with solar panels; wouldn't that charge up the battery considerably while the pilot is soaring with the motor turned off for a couple of hours...? $\endgroup$ – Ayan Mullick Apr 30 '16 at 12:51

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