Amazing Mini Solar Helicopter Aims To Wow Them In London

The search for new ways to slip the surly bonds of Earth – like the Solar Impulse, the e-volo multicopter and the Gamera II – seems to be every bit as compelling now as it was in the days of the Wright Brothers. Now the parade of aviation concepts brings us a solar-powered helicopter, albeit of the unmanned variety.

This is the work of a septet of self-described masters students from Queen Mary University in London, who became known to the world after they submitted photos of their “Solar-Copter” in action to Design Boom.

solar-copter solar-powered helicopter

Test flight of earlier concept (image via Solar-Copter)

On their own Facebook page, the students say their mission is to build “the world’s first solar powered multicopter” (multicopter is a term often used to describe a helicopter with multiple rotors). The students reveal on their page that the hovering prototype in the pictures (above and below), with a blade on each edge of a solar-cell covered panel perhaps a few feet square in size, is “an old concept” and they are now “working on a more advanced” design.

solar-copter solar-powered helicopter

image via Solar-Copter

They’ve got a pretty snazzy looking new video up that gives some sense of where they are heading. This new design is a meter square, and one change we noticed is that the blades have been shifted from in the middle of the edges to the corners, and are extended out a bit from the panel. Check out the video:

So when might we see this new concept spring to life? Well, in a Feb. 14 Facebook post, the students wrote: “We will be making history on March 6th 2013 at the Industrial Liaison Forum (ILF) at Queen Mary University of London! BE THERE!!!”

Here’s the link to the event: Industrial Liaison Forum. If you go and the Solar-Copter takes off, send video. While the pictures submitted to Design Boom look real enough, we have not actually seen the Solar-Copter in action and would love to. Our rudimentary understanding of aerodynamics leads us to believe that the thrust required to lift a rotor craft using solar power would be quite the engineering challenge – even more challenging, it would seem, that using solar for the glider-like airplanes, such as the Solar Impulse and the smaller-scale, solar-enhanced Silent Falcon developed in New Mexico.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.