UC Irvine Solar Airplane

Problem Definition

During natural disasters, it can be difficult to gauge the scope of damage; it may be difficult to quickly assess structural damages or to search for people who were directly affected by the disaster. While satellite imagery can be useful, it is not always readily available and its resolution is usually not optimal for small-scale purposes. Therefore, having a method to quickly gather the necessary information during natural disasters is desired.


The objective of this project is to design and manufacture a UAV that can assist with planning rescue missions and evacuation operations during natural disasters. The UAV will have its flight duration extended, at least by 30 minutes beyond battery-only duration, by installing solar panels. The imagery the proposed UAV will be able to collect can be used for the missions during natural disasters. A low-cost drone is more accessible by organization while still performing small imaging collection tasks. The proposed UAV will be able to fly at low heights to achieve a very low ground sample distance. The drone can aid with disaster relief efforts where accessibility is difficult for humans or visibility is limited.

The following assumptions apply:

  • The operators of the UAV will be operating remotely and have flying experience.
  • The operation of the design should not require any more training than necessary to fly a standard hobby plane.
  • The operators will not be required to know any engineering concepts.
  • The operators should be able to easily fix parts via manual and template manufacturing methods, such as laser printing, molding, 3D printing and anything with a template.

Design Requirements

  1. Must be functional
  2. Must be powered by solar panels and batteries.
  3. Flight duration must be extended at least by 30 minutes beyond the battery-only duration.
  4. GPS and camera must be integrated.
  5. Must be portable.
  6. Must fit within a standard truck bed (6.5' x 4.2')
  7. In-flight data must be given via remote terminal
  8. Electronics and propulsion equipment must be easily accessible in the final prototype


The UC Irvine Solar Airplane Project Team will seek to design, manufacture, and test a UAV in order to provide a solution to the problem statement described as well as to educate its members on the engineering design process in the field of aircraft design and integrated systems design. It will accomplish this by approaching a design challenge, assigned by the acting advisor and reviewed by the project manager, that involves the design, manufacture and testing of an aircraft with integrated solar panels.

  • This project aims to extend the flight time of the UAV by mitigating the mechanical and electrical losses and augmenting the battery using solar panels as a proposed solution to the design challenge.
  • The plane will be designed and manufactured by the team members to reduce mechanical and physical losses as well as take advantage of the renewable energy source solar panels provide.
  • The design should be modular and convenient to assist those in hazardous areas reduce the risk to their lives while still managing to save the lives of others.
  • A collection of documents that details the entirety of the engineering process as the team proceeded through it will be collected from each team and compiled into a single organized document to provide context and data for next year's (or later) team.

Team Contacts

Student Contact:

Marcus Freitas - mrfreita@uci.edu

Faculty Advisor:

Yun Wang - yunw@uci.edu

Project status: 
Academic year: 
Fall Poster: 
Winter Poster: