A solar thermal powered aircraft powered by heat energy from the sun. A Rankine-Brayton hybrid cycle heat engine is carried by the aircraft body for producing power for a propulsion mechanism, such as a propeller or other mechanism for enabling sustained free flight. The Rankine-Brayton engine has a thermal battery, preferably containing a lithium-hydride and lithium mixture, operably connected to it so that heat is supplied from the thermal battery to a working fluid. A solar concentrator, such as reflective parabolic trough, is movably connected to an optically transparent section of the aircraft body for receiving and concentrating solar energy from within the aircraft. Concentrated solar energy is collected by a heat collection and transport conduit, and heat transported to the thermal battery. A solar tracker includes a heliostat for determining optimal alignment with the sun, and a drive motor actuating the solar concentrator into optimal alignment with the sun based on a determination by the heliostat.
The United States Government has rights in this invention pursuant to Contract No. W-7405-ENG-48 between the United States Department of Energy and the University of California for the operation of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.