SKYDWELLER IS WHAT GOOGLE AND FACEBOOK COULD NOT ACHIEVE
Skydweller is the perpetual-flight aircraft that Google and Facebook could not achieve – even Japan’s SoftBank failed. The U.S. Department of Defense will start test-flying Skydweller in autumn 2023.
Marco Vicenzino is Global Strategy Advisor to Skydweller’s CEO.
Skydweller Aero, the transatlantic company has set out to succeed where some of the world’s largest companies tried but failed, including Google and Facebook and Japan’s SoftBank.
Skydweller’s vision – which is already starting to become a reality – is to create a platform that is virtually capable of flying indefinitely. Google and Facebook tried it with high-altitude balloons from which internet could be supplied to isolated areas.
Skydweller achieved this on January 28, 2023, with a drone – that is, an aircraft that does not need a pilot – that only uses solar energy it captures on its panels.
It is an aircraft capable of flying, at least in equatorial and tropical zones, 365 days a year, at a maximum altitude of 35,000 feet (almost 11,000 meters) with a maximum payload of 363 kilos (800 pounds).
“This fall and winter we will begin to carry out evaluation operations in the Caribbean,” the company’s CEO, Robert Miller, explains to EL MUNDO. Those tests will consist of flights over the region. It is a contract with the U.S. Navy and U.S. Southern Command – which covers all of Americas south of the U.S.-Mexico border.
The region is ideal for Skydweller particularly the strip that extends 25 degrees north latitude to 25 degrees south latitude. Skydweller can fly consecutively for 365 days in this area.
In abstract terms, this may mean very little. But when looking at a world map, the range the aircraft cam cover is overwhelming. The area from 25 degrees north to 25 degrees south constitutes about 5,500 kilometers. It is a gigantic strip that spans the entire earth. A few examples would be from Miami to Rio de Janeiro; from El Aaiún, Western Sahara, to Johannesburg , South Africa; or from Dubai to Maputo, Mozambique.
Skydweller could thus become the most spectacular and historic export from Spain’s La Mancha region, with the exception of Don Quixote.
The fact that Skydweller does not make noise, can carry hundreds of kilos of equipment and reach significant altitudes, makes it ideal for meteorological research, counter-terrorism operations (for example, in the Sahel), immigration control, and fishing activities. Also for illegal activities such as smuggling and piracy in the Indian Ocean and West Africa. In addition, since Skydweller has no engine, it does not generate heat, which makes them undetectable by the MANPADS, anti-aircraft missiles.
That’s important as Skydweller is anything but a normal plane. It is a giant with wings that measures, from tip to tip, 71 meters and 93 centimeters, that is, 236 feet, and it flies very slowly, at a speed of between 45 and 90 kilometers per hour.
For now, “a number of NATO countries, including the United States, Spain, France, Great Britain, Luxembourg and others,” are interested in Skydweller’s product, Miller says. For Skydweller’s CEO, national defense ministries will be the first customers.
Then come the telecommunications companies, which will be able to use the platform of an airplane that flies as long as it takes to deliver internet and telecommunications services to remote or mountainous areas, which is precisely what Alphabet and Meta wanted to achieve when they launched similar projects, which closed due to lack of results.
The third group, according to Miller, will be “geospatial data companies that are interested in acquiring very high-resolution data.” And all without emitting a gram of gases that contribute to global warming.
Skydweller Aero expects to be able to start trading its shares in 2024, although it does not want to advance any prices. If that goal is achieved, it would be the closure of a human, technological and business adventure that would have lasted eight years. It all started in July 2016, when the Solar Impulse 2 plane finished circumnavigating the world, on a journey that took 16 months and in which the only propelling force of the plane was the solar panels on its wings, which collected the energy photovoltaic which is then stored in four lithium batteries. When the journey ended, the Solar Impulse 2 was bought by a group of investors who took it to Albacete, Spain.
With so many changes, there was also a change in name; from Solar Impulse to Skydweller, within a long transformation into a commercially viable platform, a task carried out by teams located 9,000 kilometers away: one in Oklahoma, in the United States, and another in Spain, where Skydweller Aero employs about 100 people.
In his exchange of emails with EL MUNDO, Skydweller’s CEO Miller praises Spain from all points of view, from the weather -“the weather conditions are very good for the project”- to its test pilot Ramón Alonso -“an element indispensable part of our team”-, as well as the rest of the staff -“our team of engineers is our greatest asset and Spain continues to be an innovator in aerospace matters”- and, also, both regional and national authorities “who supported from the first day our project”.
This article is an edited version of the original published in Spain’s El Mundo on April 3, 2023