A lightweight, solar-powered plane created by UK firm QinetiQ has exceeded the official world record time for the longest duration unmanned flight with a 54 hour flight achieved during trials at the US military’s White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.
The Zephyr High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) is an ultra-lightweight carbon-fibre aircraft with a wingspan of up to 18 metres but weighing just 30 kg. Hand launched, by day it flies on solar power generated by amorphous silicon arrays no thicker than sheets of paper that cover the aircraft's wings. By night it is powered by rechargeable lithium-sulphur batteries that are recharged during the day using solar power.
The duration of the flight exceeded the current official FAI world record for unmanned flight which stands at 30 hours 24 minutes set by Northrop Grumman's RQ-4A Global Hawk on 22 March 2001. However because there was no FAI official present at White Sands it may not stand as an official world record.
The trials validated recent modifications that have improved the efficiency of Zephyr's power system. These have included new solar arrays supplied by United Solar Ovonic, a full flight-set of Sion Power batteries as well as a novel solar-charger and bespoke autopilot developed by QinetiQ, all of which were being flown for the first time. During the trials the same aircraft was flown twice while carrying a surveillance payload – first for 54 hours to a maximum altitude of 58,355 feet, and then for 33 hours 43 minutes to a maximum altitude of 52,247 feet.
Potential applications for Zephyr include earth observation and communications relay in support of a range of defence, security and civil requirements.
A real solar powered plane – how cool is that? If you can't afford why not settle for a solar powered helicopter?!
Further information can be found at : www.qinetic.com
Picture courtesy of QinetiQ.