Leonardo invests in the world’s first solar-powered drone capable of perpetual flight with heavy payloads

Leonardo is accelerating the progress of technology and innovation in autonomous flight by investing in Skydweller Aero Inc., a US/Spanish start-up specialising in largescale solar-powered unmanned air systems. The ini-tiative will result in the development and de-ployment of the Skydweller drone, the world’s first fully electric unmanned aircraft capa-ble of carrying large payloads with unlimited range and ultra-persistent endurance. “As the key technological investor and partner of the project, Leonardo will broaden its capabilities in new power systems, autonomous flight, in-novative aerostructures, ultra-light materials and ecofriendly technologies to improve the company’s competitive advantage in the aero-space business fo the next 20 years “, 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 revolutionary platform will be used for purposes ranging from land and maritime surveillance to monitoring the environment and infrastructure, from industrial geo-infor-mation 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 Skydweller project builds on a proven and mature aircraft that successfully circum-navigated the globe in 2016. The first phase focuses on converting the aircraft from a manned platform into an Optionally-Piloted Vehicle (OPV) by integrating advanced auton-omy algorithms and vehicle management sys-tems. The second step of the project will culmi-nate in the first production aircraft, designed solely for unmanned operations and hardened against a range of environmental conditions.

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