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May 31st, 2007
The development of rechargeable nickel-cadmium batteries opened a door for model airplane builders to experiment with small electrically powered aircraft. Nickel-cadmium batteries have the advantage of being extremely light despite their relatively low power density. Model aircraft could stay aloft for durations of a timespan of some 3-minutes. New developments in small battery technology enable model aircraft to remain aloft for longer durations.
The appearance of rechargeable nickel metal hydride batteries and lithium-ion batteries now allow the same types of electrically powered model aircraft to remain aloft for durations of 20-minutes and more. Researchers at Brown University (Rhode Island) are testing lightweight plastic-polymer batteries that are scheduled to become commercially available over the next several years. A rechargeable variant is also likely in the future and would help keep model aircraft aloft for an hour and more.
New developments in solar photovoltaic technology have seen the conversion efficiency increase from around 9-percent to some 27-percent. A variety of solar aircraft have been built over the past twenty years and include pilot controlled and radio controlled versions. New developments are planned in solar photovoltaic flight including flying craft that would remain aloft for prolonged durations when flown at extreme altitudes or during summer months at the north of south pole (24-hours of sun). The latter solar electric aircraft may likely carry several vertically mounted solar panels to capture sunlight.
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