Lighter-than-air plane can stay airborne indefinitely

A new aircraft that is capable of flying in the air, for days, weeks, or even months without an engine has been launched for a test run.

According to CNN, the aerial vehicle, known as The Phoenix, was designed
to repeatedly switch between being lighter and heavier than air to generate thrust and allow it to stay in the skies indefinitely.

The technical term for this type of aircraft is “ultra-long endurance autonomous aircraft” and its use mainly really is to create a cheaper alternative to launching satellites.

Image capture of video via Stuff

Andrew Rae, a professor of Engineering at the University of the Highlands and Islands, led the development of the aircraft.

“The Phoenix spends half its time as a heavier-than-air aeroplane, the other as a lighter-than-air balloon,” explained Professor Rae. “The repeated transition between these states provides the sole source of propulsion.”

He also said that ‘The Phoenix’ fuselage contains helium to allow it to ascend and also contains an air bag which inhales and compresses air to enable the craft to descend.

This motion propels the aeroplane forward and is assisted by the release of the compressed air through a rear vent.

Image capture of video via Stuff

The Phoenix was tested over a distance of 394 feet in continuous laps at an indoor storage facility in Portsmouth. The vehicle, which is also called an ultra-long endurance autonomous aircraft, is 49 feet in length and weighs about 265 pounds.

According to the researchers, the test flight was the result of a three-year project to investigate the effectiveness of variable-buoyancy for powering a large aircraft. The team is now looking to collaborate with major manufacturers to move into the next phase of development.