Parallels: Gossamer Condor and Aurora Flight Science’s SunLight Eagle


Aurora Flight Sciences‘ unmanned aircraft SunLight Eagle flew on 12 May. The solar-powered, 34.7m (114ft) wingspan, 75kg (165lb) UAV became airborne at New Mexico State University’s Physical Science Laboratory Unmanned Aircraft Systems Flight Test Center at Las Cruces airport.

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A colleague and I thought this looked similar to the Gossamer Condor? What do you think?

For more on the Gossamer Condor and the Kremer Prize in Flight’s PDF archive

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5 Responses to Parallels: Gossamer Condor and Aurora Flight Science’s SunLight Eagle

  1. Wilbur Douglas 23 May, 2009 at 8:27 pm #

    C Keith Martin
    Daedalus? I found this entry in the archive – which,incidentally, is a brilliant resource. See this link.

  2. Ion Lazare 24 May, 2009 at 6:38 pm #

    I agree with C Keith, it looks rather like the daedalus human powered aircraft developed by professors (Mark Drela) & students from MIT.
    The Gossamer Condor & Albatross (the conceptor of these was Paul MacCready) aircraft had a canard empennage as you can see on this student french web site recalling the history of human powered flight (sorry it is in french):


  3. Patricia A.Woodside 26 May, 2009 at 2:43 pm #

    Aurora Flies Large Solar-Powered Aircraft

    Release No: APR-237
    Date: 05/14/2009
    Contact(s): Patricia Woodside
    Director, Public Relations
    (703) 396-6304

    Printable version

    MANASSAS, VA (Released by Aurora Flight Sciences)

    Aurora Flight Sciences announced today that it has successfully flown the SunLight Eagle, a solar-powered unmanned aircraft. The flights took place at the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Flight Test Center operated by the Physical Science Laboratory of New Mexico State University.

    The SunLight Eagle has a wingspan of 114 feet – roughly that of a DC-9 jetliner – yet weighed only 165 pounds at liftoff.

    “The flight successfully accomplished all of its initial test objectives” said Aurora project manager Robyn Allen. “The first was to collect data on the aircraft’s aerodynamic performance, to determine the impact of the solar cells. The second objective was to prove that it is possible to fly large, experimental solar aircraft inside the National Airspace System, as opposed to on a government-restricted range.”

    “NMSU was very pleased with these pathfinder tests” according to Dennis Zaklan, the NMSU Flight Test Center test manager for the SunLight Eagle effort. “The success of the tests at the Las Cruces Airport was due to an outstanding Aurora product, a great team and cooperative planning effort between Aurora, NMSU, and Las Cruces Airport staff which led to the success and also led to an excellent experiential activity for the numerous students that we had involved.”

    The Sunlight Eagle is a derivative of an earlier human-powered aircraft, the MIT Light Eagle. That airplane served as the prototype for the Daedalus human-powered aircraft. The Light Eagle still holds four world records for human-powered flight and the Daedalus holds two.

    “To convert the Light Eagle to the SunLight Eagle we made a number of changes” said project engineer Ellis Langford. “The first was to cover the upper surface with solar cells. Then we added a battery system so the plane can fly at night or under clouds. We replaced the pedals on the original plane with an electric motor and a gearbox. We installed electromechanical servos on all the control surfaces. And of course we removed the pilot”.

    The next step in the SunLight Eagle project will be to prepare the aircraft to fly longer durations at higher altitudes. This will require upgrades to the control system and installation of an emergency parachute, to recover the aircraft safely if anything goes wrong. “We hope to be back at NMSU by late summer” said Allen.

    “Aurora’s SunLight Eagle, a solar-powered unmanned aircraft in flight testing at the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Flight Test Center operated by the Physical Science Laboratory of New Mexico State University. Copyright 2009 Aurora Flight Sciences”

    About Aurora Flight Sciences

    Aurora Flight Sciences designs and builds robotic aircraft and other advanced aerospace vehicles for scientific and military applications. Aurora is headquartered in Manassas, VA and operates production plants in Bridgeport, WV and Columbus, MS and a Research and Development Center in Cambridge, MA. To view recent press releases and more about Aurora please visit our web site at

  4. Green Ghost 1 June, 2009 at 11:30 pm #

    It looks a lot like the Daedalus prototype, the Michelob Light Eagle, with a top-mounted wing support wire added.

    Was it a retrofit of the 1987 Light Eagle, or a newly constructed aircraft?

  5. anon 21 February, 2010 at 4:43 am #

    Has Aurora Flight Sciences really made anything of commercial value??

    I mean any hobbiest can go the local hobby store and spend a fortune to make nifty crafts that fly – I say spend a fortune, becuause in the case of Aurora, they use the Tax Payers pocket.

    Can anyone name any UAV designed, developed, tested and commercially sold by Aurora??

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