Following projects like the Solar Impulse and NASA’s Helios wing, the idea of propelling aircraft using solar energy isn’t as fanciful as it used to be, even if it’s still experimental and full of practical holes. Before long, we’ll surely see solar power used to aid traditional airplanes, even if it’s not used as the main fuel.

To show what’s possible, a team of masters students from the U.K. have built what they call the world’s first “solar copter“–a quadrotor that flies solely on solar power. At the moment, it is capable only of short flights. But the team say it should fly longer soon, once they’ve added a storage system.

“The SolarCopter is a quadrotor design that incorporates a solar panel providing the power for the propulsion system,” the six students say in a joint email. “It is controlled in the same way as a standard battery-powered quadrotor. Optimum thrust-to-weight ratio was mainly achieved through an efficient propulsion system, unique frame design, and an optimized solar panel.”

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