I am Nicholas Tan, a Year 10 student currently undertaking my goal of designing and building a solar powered rc airplane for my personal project. Even before the project was announced I knew I wanted to do an aviation related theme and after a lot of planning I was led to this hard, daunting yet exciting project.
Having both of my parents as pilots and being surrounded by aviation my whole life, it was evident that I was going to develop an interest in aviation, and this interest started when I was about 9 years old. I knew I had to do something with airplanes for my personal project, however doing something affordable and something that I could relate to a global context was going to be difficult. I explored the possibilities of designing and building rc aircraft, however, I knew how I was going to do that and felt like I needed more of a challenge. It wasn't until I saw a video of a solar-powered aircraft that flew around the world that I knew I was going to design and build my own solar powered remote controlled U.A.V.
Approaching this project was one of the most daunting experiences of my life, I had built many pre-designed rc aircraft, however, I had only worked with one material before, being foam. I had no idea how to do anything, from designing my aircraft to wiring up solar panels and measuring the efficiency of my aircraft. Designing a goal was even a challenge for I knew nothing about how my aircraft would perform and therefore couldn't come up with any specifications for my goal.
The first step I thought was to see what others had done in order to be successful, so after many hours scanning through the internet observing other peoples awesome ideas I had a very very rough idea of how to start my project. I decided I was going to experiment on the different build techniques I could use for my airframe. I knew that the aircraft needed to be quite large in order to fit a certain amount of solar cells in. Having worked with foam before I knew the structural stability of the wings along with the weight of the structure would be extremely inefficient, so I needed to find a different build technique. I knew of a few options I had never tried before such as using composite materials to build a high-performance aircraft, however, the drawback to this method was it was extremely expensive. Another method was to use balsa wood to design an aircraft, and this fit my basic specifications of being affordable and strong enough to build an aircraft with. I ordered two balsa aircraft kits, both having slightly different built techniques to try and figure out what the best way to build my aircraft was going to be. After building both kits, the FW190 and the piper J-3 cub I noted the best parts about each build and started to develop a rough plan on how I was going to design an airframe.
The next step was to order the part of the aircraft I needed, which was a whole new challenge I had to face, having never built an aircraft of this scale before. I needed a highly efficient part capable of converting solar energy into energy required to make my aircraft fly. Due to the passion I already had and the numerous amounts of the airplane I had already make I knew the basic requirements of getting a plane into the air, however, I needed much more than that, so once again I used the interested to aid my research in helping me find the electronics I needed. I had successfully discovered all the components I needed to build my aircraft which was great….. Until and I added up all the prices and saw how far over the budget it was (not including shipping). I decided to remove the GV boost mppt controller which is a controller that obtains the correct voltage output for the battery and instead control the voltage by running a certain amount of solar cells in series with each other.
At this point in time, I have spent many many many hours, 50 as a rough estimate designing a test aircraft to see if I can make an airplane I designed myself fly. This aircraft was designed in adobe illustrator and it will have a wingspan of 1500mm or 1.5meters. I hope to laser cut the designs into balsa wood, build the airframe, cover the airframe in covering film and install the electronics to see if it will fly. I have also been testing my solar panels and managed to soldier up one solar panel to a small motor which worked great! I was amazed to see how efficient that one solar cell was, however also how fragile it was. The next steps in the process are to calculate my airfoil and evaluate the aerodynamics of my future aircraft. And start designing and constructing the final product!
Working on the project allows me to be me and allows me to pursue a passion I love. Designing a solar-powered plane also allows me to push my capabilities I was previously unaware I had, prior to starting the project I considered myself to have a fairly in-depth level of understanding for basic aerodynamics and knowledge for rc airplanes. However, since starting I realized that there is always room to grow and learn more which is exactly what I have done, and I am excited to see what applications I can use my skills for in the future.
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