Introduction: Solar Plane

Picture of Solar Plane

This instructable will show you how to create a solar powered plane. This project was done at Newman Smith High School (Carrollton-Farmers Branch Independent School District [CFBISD]) in Carrollton, Texas and was sponsored by the Texas A&M University Society of Flight Test Engineers. We received most of the needed parts from Texas A&M University and built the plane for the High School Solar Plane Competition on May 25, 2013. The project is not for the beginner as it gets a bit complicated. Skills that you will need include soldering skills, plane building skills, monokoting skills, and general R/C plane knowledge. Our team ended up with the Most Creative award and 2nd place in Endurance.

Special Thanks to Texas A&M University, Newman Smith High School Teachers and Principal & the DIY Drones Community (

Below are some pictures of the completed project. The next step will be the list of materials needed.
Also included below is the link for build basics and aircraft aerodynamics- there are two PowerPoints included by Texas A&M University. If you are going to do the project, printing out these two PowerPoints will help you immensely. However, please take note that all the cells must be in series, not in parallel as one of the PowerPoint presentations describes.

Want to see more photos? PM me and I'll give you a link.

UPDATE: 03/31/2014: Research Paper now included.

Step 1: Materials

Picture of Materials

Materials Needed: 
Glider (we used the Gentle Lady) 
Monokote (We ended up using about 3 rolls- two for the 8 foot wing [bottom] & body of the plane and another clear roll for the panels)
3x6 Solar Panels
Tabbing Wire
Bus Wire
Normal Wire
Micro Servos 
Push Rods 
Nylon Control Horns 
Li-Po Battery
ESC (Electronic Speed Controller) 
Connectors (for Wires) 
Electric Motor 
CA Glue 
Heat Shrink Tubing 
Sewing String 
Pairing Connector (depends on your transmitter/receiver) 
Nuts (for balancing wing) 
Balsa Wood Sheets (optional- depends on how big your wing is) 

Soldering Iron
Hobby Knife and extra blades 
Heat Gun 
Sealing Iron 
Large Table 
Sand Paper 
Wire Cutter 
Digital Multi-Meter
First Aid Kit 

Step 2: Building the Wing

Picture of Building the Wing

To begin the project, start by building the wing. The wing is where the panels will go on. Depending on what glider/plane kit you use, you may want to do it differently. We extended our two meter wing span to make it 8 feet to fit 22 panels in-between the ribs. The other teams that we competed with did not do so this way. They put the panels directly on the wings and did not extend the wing span. By extending the wing span and putting the panels in between, we used less ribs and made the wing more fragile, but it paid off and did not break because we did a pretty good job of reinforcing it. 

To extend our wing, we cut out extra ribs from some balsas wood and duplicated the middle of the wing to extend it. 

Follow the plans provided with your kit and build the wing. Extend the wing from the center if necessary. 

Step 3: Solar Panels

Picture of Solar Panels

Solar Panels: something that is a pain in the butt to install. 
These solar panels were about as fragile as anything we had ever handled before. Rigid and inflexible, we broke about half of them. 
Handling them with the uttermost care is very important to avoid damage to them. Some cracks are okay, it just depends on where they are located and how they broke. Searching up how solar panels work, how to cut them, and how to tab them really helps. 

Some background information: The shiny blue side of the panel is negative. The bottom grey side is positive. To connect in series, connect the top tabbing wire to the bottom tabbing wire. There is more information in the PowerPoint. 

After tabbing the cells, CA glue them onto the wing in-between the ribs. After doing so, then connect them in series carefully with the soldering iron, making sure to not hurt yourself. 

The bus wires go at the end of the panels and are connected to a wire that leads to the middle of the wing from either side. 

Step 4: Fuselage, Monokote & Electronics

Picture of Fuselage, Monokote & Electronics

Building the fuselage
The construction of the fuselage is not very difficult. Follow the instructions on the airplane plan provided. Wiring on the other hand may be more difficult. If you extend the wing, the CG on the plane may shift and you might have to do some minor modifications on servo placement. Heat shrink all electrical components to avoid any short circuits.


Monokoting is not hard either. Use youtube videos to learn how to do it. Make sure when you are monokoting the wing, do the bottom first and then the top and make sure you curve the monotkote over to maintain a good airfoil and reduce any drag. You want to have as much laminar flow as possible. Make sure to use clear monokote for the top of the wing so the solar panels can charge. Cut and Iron the monokote on the wing, then blow it with the heat gun so it contracts and creates a tight wrap around the skeleton of the wing. 

Wiring & Electronics
Follow the PowerPoints provided and you should be fine. Put the Nylon control horns where they belong and wrap them in tape so they don't fall off in flight. 

Step 5: Testing Electronic Parts

Picture of Testing Electronic Parts

To test the solar panels, plug them all into the charger where they belong and bring it outside to test on a sunny day. Plug the DMM into the output and measure the voltage. The charger that we used only started charging when the voltage was greater than 12 volts. 

To test the other parts, pair the receiver and the transmitter together. Depending on which brand on transmitter you use, you may need a pairing plug. 

Step 6: Test Flying

Picture of Test Flying

Bring the plane to an airfield and find an experienced pilot to fly the plane. That person will give you further instruction on how to modify the plane to give it better flight. For us, we needed to reinforce the elevator and rudder. We accomplished that with duct tape. 

Step 7: Conclusion

Picture of Conclusion

The Solar Plane project is an amazing starting point to getting into green energy, R/C, planes, electronics, aerospace, or just about anything else. As for our team, we had an amazing four person group plus our amazing teacher. If you're in a team, make some team shirts, it boosts morale and on competition day, everyone knows who you are. 

We ended up with 2nd in endurance because the charger wouldn't charge below 12 volts and competition day was an overcast day. But having the cells between the ribs gave us creativity points and using duct tape gave the judges a bit of a kick. We ended up with the most creative award and we're proud. From doing this project, you will learn so much about planes, solar energy, teamwork. It is a great way to spend a couple of weeks on a cool project. 

Make sure that if you're interested in green technology and solar planes in general, check out the Swiss project Solar Impulse. Our team got to chat with them when they came to Dallas because of our involvement in a similar project. :

This dude in Finland is also worth checking out. Here's his Facebook link: 

Steps from here: To move beyond what we've created for now, we can add an auto-pilot system, cameras, and other equipment to make it a semi-autonomous drone. Light sensors can be added on either side of the wing and the plane can circle up the sky  with maximum sun exposure on the panels; then at night, it can loiter around, slowly circling back down to Earth. This plan however, would require a new plane, a new design, and a lot of effort, but that is what we intend on doing next year. Heck, we could even connect  the plane to a cell tower as one commenter below suggested. The GPS system would then tell people in the vicinity of the plane that the plane is there and the plane could fly over on top, giving the people a live bird's eye view of themselves. Awesome plan, right? The only part getting the technology down is acquiring FAA approval to do such a project. 


NoyaFieldsOrg (author)2017-05-26

What a seriously cool and fun project!!!

GeorgeB141 (author)2017-05-05

Very good. We are building our Solar Evolution here at the University of Kansas right now. We have everything together except the Solar Charger we ordered. It will be here soon. Then we start ground testing.

We used the Maxeon / Sun power C60 panels. We have 30 of them on a Bird of Time and currently output 18 VDC @ 6 Amps. more than enough to charge the batteries. We are hoping for an entire solar day plus at least 3 hours of operation.

jeffmazter406 (author)GeorgeB1412017-05-10

Sweet! Please keep me posted on how everything goes. I am currently at the University of Houston - still working with sUAS on the side - but more so on the integration of sUAS into the public safety industry instead of R&D.

GeorgeB141 (author)jeffmazter4062017-05-11

We do a lot of things relative to Aerospace Engineering. My current job function is to assist with development of Non-Linear Autonomous flight systems using H-Infinity, H2 and NMPC Robust controllers. I also work for the Department and assist with various Aerospace courses.

We have videos and discussions on our web site, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.

Best Regards,

Sh_amma (author)2017-04-08

How many did you connected parallel?

aditib13 (author)2017-03-14

Hey! I've been going through this project for quite some time. And I have decided to make it for my final year project. But I have a problem with wiring in the fuselage . If you could help me out with some block diagram or ppt it would be very kind of you. Also the link that you provided in the intro doesn't work.

jeffmazter406 (author)aditib132017-03-14

Hello - that is awesome that you are making this your final year project - the link should work:

If not, PM me. Also check out Daniel Riley's YouTube Channel: rctestflight

He has gotten into Solar Airplanes and has been doing a really good job of making them.

electronicz guy (author)2014-06-05

Awesome build, i love it.. You could add a micro controller with gps and program in a location and it will fly autonomously. did this with a quad copter had the micro controller set to the gps on my phone and it few 10 miles right to my position. all in all great job. i will def be building one of these. thank for the inspiration.

remzak (author)electronicz guy2015-01-29

That is a total lie. A quadcopter capable of flying that far would cost thousands of dollars and use a 10000mah or more battery. How many cells did your lipo have? How many kv are the motors? Bet you don't know, or you seriously exaggerated.

YamaanB (author)remzak2016-08-22

i think he just meant the auto pilot part

fred3655 (author)remzak2015-04-08

I agree

fred3655 (author)fred36552015-04-08

This is a lie

Thank you!

For your quadcopter, what microcontroller did you use? APM I'm assuming? And 10 miles!? (totally not line of sight though if you're in the US...) How long is the flight time and what's your setup - radio system, battery, etc.? I have a quad with a 4000mah battery-around a 15 min flight time to 20%. Actually, I took a picture of my whole senior class using the quad on loiter mode.

YamaanB (author)2016-08-22

also the power point is broken

YamaanB (author)2016-08-22

i wanted to do this for a science fair project. i already have a built glider and i wanted to know how what solar panels, what motor should i use and if i need to place the panels under the monicoat because i dont want to open up my planes wing

zahidyaqub (author)2016-08-03

can u help in making a solar power it possible to make it n not use other source to charge it,to provide it power for flight....n how can we get control on its wait to make it efficient?

jeffmazter406 (author)zahidyaqub2016-08-03

That is a great question. I am not really sure myself - my initial thoughts are that rotor powered aircraft would require a lot more power than a fixed wing aircraft because the rotors/propellers are the only source of lift and it only creates that when spinning at a certain RPM.

Feel free to ask around on other forums, but the best way I can think of to provide charge through a completely solar powered system is if you either 1) Tether your quadcopter to the ground and have a thin wire transmitting the power to the aircraft - the ground station would have a large solar array capable of collecting the required amount of energy for your quadcopter or 2) have a solar ground station that converts the solar power into a infrared laser beam that is shone at the flying quadcopter which has a receiver on it. Here's where I came up with that idea from:

With both of my ideas, your quadcopter would be limited in terms of range and the cost to build the ground station and create all this other stuff I just mentioned would certainly be out of your budget requirements. If you want to move forward with any of this, let me know and we can throw some more ideas together.

Is what I just mentioned practical? Maybe. Consider your POU (philosophy of use) and then determine what your best way is to proceed is. Let me know if you have any other questions or if you'd like to develop this concept further.

Best of luck.

zahidyaqub (author)jeffmazter4062016-08-08

thanks for your advice...i would look into it...i have another project to do could u help me in that.....? what about solar plane...? i m working on in but i am having a problem in solar panels....i am not having an idea about what type of panels should i use...n what about its balancing could i make it balanced...when i simple panels on it i got a little balancing problem...i could'nt figer it out....could u help me...n thanks again for your advice

When I replied to your question previously, my idea of the solar laser ground station was purely based on my imagination - it turns out that the technology is already available although I am unsure if you would be able to access that technology:

ShreeShaG1 (author)2016-08-07

Nice project!! I'm just trying to make that ..I wanted to know how many solar panels are needed and what type of panels are needed and how about the pololu 12v stepup regulator should I use that ...r something else that helps me in this project .so that plane flys for more that the normal battery flying time.

yishaisilver8 (author)2016-04-28

what is the payload?

LayerByLayer (author)2015-05-27

And for your .5 volts problem, when Im making mine, I'm adding two fake propellers but there actually low grade wind turbines which will have copper wire on the rod and a magnet that'll make electricity

LayerByLayer (author)2015-05-27

And for your .5 volts problem, when Im making mine, I'm adding two fake propellers but there actually low grade wind turbines which will have copper wire on the rod and a magnet that'll make electricity

LayerByLayer (author)2015-05-27

Scratch that, How'd you do the tail?

LayerByLayer (author)2015-05-25

Now, I'm thinking of making a 'ambulance' version of this, but I don't know how to do the fold on the end of the wings.

asishkumar.halder.9 (author)2015-03-19

Excellent demonstrated step-by-step construction process. I have come back to Aeromodelling after 43 years. Your instruction is very encouraging and I will try making a Solar Powered Glider with 10' wing span. I have the full drawing. As I am from India, it would be difficult to get the semi or rather partial flexible photo voltaic cells. But your process of mounting the panels just under the main spar or rather in between the main spar and the trailing edge makes life a little easier. Truly appreciate your instructions and would like to share my model once I complete it and test fly it. Thanks a ton. With warm regards --- Asish Kumar Halder, Kolkata, India.

Thank you for the kind words. I wish you the best of luck on your project and hope to see it once you complete it!

dronolite (author)2015-03-15

how many watt motor and what type of propeller used here?

jeffmazter406 (author)dronolite2015-04-13

Hi. I believe the motor is an 1100kv motor with a max power of 315 watts. This appears to be the same thing:

I am not sure about the propeller used. It's been a few years since doing the project - but I'm sure you can find something online about the optimal propeller for this particular plane design/motor configuration.

mrsplooge (author)2014-06-11

jeffmazter406 (author)mrsplooge2014-06-11

Hey! Thank you for the link! I just signed up my high school's Science & Engineering Pathway for the sample...too bad I just graduated from High School so I might not get a chance to experiment with the cell...but since shipping is "only" 4 weeks, I might have a chance to experiment with it before the new kiddos get to it.

infinityPV (author)jeffmazter4062015-03-24

The solar cells are now available to buy from infinityPV

If you want to look into a new kind of thin, flexible, and lightweight solar cells, then have a look here

It's a printed organic solar cell module and can be customized to any length.

infinityPV (author)2015-03-24

Very nice solar plane model.

If you want to look into a new kind of thin, flexible, and lightweight solar cells, then have a look on

It's a printed organic solar cell module and can be customized to any length.

infinityPV (author)2015-03-24

that's super cool.

For all interested in ultra lightweight plastic solar foils, then check out It's a printed organic solar cell module and can be customized to any length.

nina_wahid (author)2014-10-13


great plane. can i see more photos and all the steps of this project? :)


Great job guys, just wondering how much will it cost me if i want to buy this particular model ( The whole Set with the remote control and all items i need to fly this ) .


Hey! Thanks.

It's been a long while since this project-but I'll give you the pricing the best I can remember it. It might be a good idea to have someone sponsor you because costs may run a bit high. Many of the on board stuff was the "cheapest" items available on the market-like the transmitter (remote control) and the receiver. We didn't use those for the test flight-some long time hobbyists used theirs to fly the plane....which means it might be a good idea to find a buddy who already does this as a hobby.

Transmitter - I recommend Turnigy 9x: $60 (decent quality)
Gentle Lady Glider: $60
Solar Cells: $20
MPPT: $100
Servos, Wiring, Monokote, Solder: $60
LiPo Battery: $30
Motor & ESC: $30
Tools (Solder gun, Heat Gun, CA Glue): $40
Other household tools: n/a
Total Cost: $400
Final Cost (overestimation by 25% to reflect increased market costs & other unknown variables): $500

I hope that the rough estimation is okay. We didn't pay for most of the parts because Texas A&M paid for the materials.

Tell me how your build goes. I'd love to see the final product and would be glad to share any expertise along the way if you run into trouble. Anything I can't answer, I'll forward to my team to see if they can help.

atanukkhatua (author)2014-08-28


Draftmen888 (author)2014-08-19

This plane really very cool...

Canderton62 (author)2014-05-11

Hi there I am very interested in solar flight I am a paramotor pilot and I fly an electric paramotor in the south of England the batteries I use are RC 6s 8000ma two of these in series to give a total of 44.4 volts what I would like to do is combine flexible solar panels on top of my paraglider wing with my the batteries to extend the flight times do you think this is possible ? And do you have any sugestions on how I would be able to intergrate them ? Here is a YouTube video the first test flights in Slovakia Electric Paramotor:

legamin (author)2014-04-24

that's so cool! Prepare for a late night call from a soft spoken serious voice "mr smith" who wonders..."do you think a four ounce high resolution camera and energy cell could be added...if it were operated in say...a VERY sunny environment.." Just kidding! This gives the rest of us a great jump off point to experiment and create. Thanx!

jeffmazter406 (author)legamin2014-04-24

Haha, nice one. But to be honest, you could probably attach a four ounce HD camera no problem. Too bad our plane has retired's just just hanging off the ceiling now, hopefully inspiring the other students to do more awesome projects.

rggovani (author)2014-03-16

Can you give me the dimensions of the genasun solar charge controller after it's cover has been removed?

jeffmazter406 (author)rggovani2014-03-19

Sure thing!

So the length is 83.5mm. Which should be about the same with the cover on.
And the width is approx. 47.72mm and is also about the same with the cover on.

The height is approx. 17.29mm at the highest point. See picture.
The height of all the shorter components is approx. 10.47

I hope that helps!

rggovani (author)jeffmazter4062014-03-20

Thank you that helps alot.

I noticed from your picture that you are using 11.1V Genasun charger?

I checked out the the Genasun chargers and they dont have 11.1V charger, Did you guys buy a custom voltage Genasun charger?

jeffmazter406 (author)rggovani2014-03-20

You're welcome.

Yeah, I think you're probably correct. Sorry, I can't give you a straight answer because Texas A&M University sponsored this project and gave us the majority of the parts.

I'm going to assume it was this one: with the custom voltage option.

rggovani (author)jeffmazter4062014-03-25

Why did you say that the electronics will fry if anything is connected to the load?

The way i see it the ESC should be connected to the load? or am i wrong?

jeffmazter406 (author)rggovani2014-03-26

That is correct: anything connected to the load will apparently fry. The A&M guys specifically warned us about doing that.

Did you take a look at the PowerPoint? The diagram might explain better than I can with words.

rggovani (author)jeffmazter4062014-03-26

I looked at the Genasun GV-5 manual. it Turns out that the load only supports 5Amps, and it says to connect dirrectly to the battery if one wants to use over 5Amps. Since you need more then 5 Amps to run the motor, i think thats why the ESC is not connected to the Load.

jeffmazter406 (author)rggovani2014-03-27

Ahh. Okay, that sounds reasonable.

Apologies if my answers aren't all that helpful. It's been a full year now. This year, there were no funds to do the project again.

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