|Arthur Dominic Villasanta |||Jun 07, 2017 08:21 AM EDT|
(Photo : CAAA) CH-T4.
(Photo : CAAA) CH-T4 in flight.
China's largest and heretofore secret unmanned solar-powered drone -- identified as the Caihong-T4 (CH-T4) -- recently set the Chinese record for the highest altitude reached by an aircraft of this type.
And this early, the Chinese Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics or CAAA (the developer of this solar plane) is talking about the huge military advantages this drone offers, key among which is the persistent surveillance of distant targets for weeks or months at a time.
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State-controlled media reported the CH-T4 flew from an airport in northwestern China; stayed aloft during the entire daylight hours before landing that evening. CH-T4 was said to have reached an altitude of more than 20,000 meters during the secret test flight.
The main mission for the CH-T4 will be to gather military and other types of information from around the world, said Shi Wen, head of unmanned aircraft development at CAAA.
He said the design team aims to improve the drone to the extent the UAV can stay aloft for months, even years, at very high altitudes.
At an altitude of 20,000 meters, CH-T4 will fly above almost all cloud cover and gain almost unlimited access to sunlight during its operations. The drone will derive power from its onboard batteries in the evening.
From this operating altitude, the CH-T4 can maintain line-of-sight contact with over one million square kilometers of ground and water, an area about the size of Egypt, said CAAA.
CAAA said the ability to reconnoiter such large areas makes the CH-T4 an excellent data relay and communications node. This means this drone can provide data that will guide ballistic missiles such as the DF-21 to distant targets like U.S. Navy aircraft carriers over a thousand kilometers away.
CH-T4 has a twin fuselage, a cranked wing and twin vertical rudders. Its wingspan extends 40 meters but despite this, the drone only weighs between 400 kg and 450 kg.
It owes its lightness to the use of carbon fiber and plastic components. The use of these materials means the UAV's eight electric propellers can drive the aircraft to speeds approaching 200 km/h.
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