The Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) is pursuing a solar-electric, long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) development programme called Qi Mingxing (Venus), Chinese aviation news portal CAN News reported in late July.
According to the report, AVIC’s First Aircraft Institute has partnered with carbon fibre and composites manufacturer Jiangsu Hengshen to complete assembly of a prototype with a 20 m wingspan.
The prototype is understood to have entered production at the end of 2017 and to have been completed on 15 July. It also reportedly features a composite structure with all-weather flight capability, with the main wing structure having a chord length of 1.1 m and a weight of 18.9 kg.
The company is expected to begin ground-based electrical and mechanical testing in anticipation of its maiden flight.
Official details of the Venus development remain unknown, although a conceptual model of the envisioned final product – an air vehicle with a wingspan of 50 m and an overall fuselage length of 21 m – was shown at Airshow China 2016. An AVIC spokesperson told Jane’s then that the company was committed to pursuing its development.
The concept shown at Airshow China 2016 depicted an airframe with a main fuselage pod that supports a shoulder-mounted wing and a cruciform tail assembly. According to company-supplied specifications, the air vehicle will be propelled by four electric tractor motors that draw power from fuel cells that are recharged via solar cells covering the upper section of the entire fuselage and wing, providing a projected cruising speed of 100–125 km/h and endurance of more than 30 days.
Besides AVIC, the China Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics (CAAA) – a subsidiary of defence prime China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) – is also pursuing an unmanned solar-electric platform under the development name of the Cai Hong (CH) Solar UAV.