Composites-intensive QinetiQ UAV test flown in U.S.

The Zephyr High-Altitude Long-Endurance unmanned aerial system (HALE UAS) program recently resumed flight testing and payload evaluations in Yuma, Ariz.

QinetiQ (Farnborough, U.K. and McLean, Va., USA) announced on Nov. 23 that its Zephyr High-Altitude Long-Endurance unmanned aerial system (HALE UAS) program recently resumed flight testing and payload evaluations in Yuma, Ariz., when a joint U.S./U.K. Zephyr team undertook the first operation of the system with a U.S. flight crew.

An ultra-lightweight carbon-fiber aircraft, Zephyr weighs less than 100 lb/45 kg with a wingspan of up to 75 ft/30.5m. Launched by hand, Zephyr is solar powered during the day using United Solar Ovonic amorphous silicon arrays no thicker than sheets of paper that cover the aircraft's wings. At night it is powered by lithium-sulphur batteries supplied by the SION Power Corp. that are recharged during the day using solar power.

This test sequence focused on evaluating potential payloads as well as advancing the conops for operating long endurance persistent aircraft in excess of five days. The Zephyr concept is designed to offer solar-powered, persistent coverage with continuous mission durations of up to three months at a low cost per flight hour. Capable of carrying a variety of payloads, the applications of the system include wide area surveillance, communications relay, specific target monitoring, anti-piracy efforts, route monitoring, counter-IED, border security, and local area security.

The U.S. Army's Yuma proving ground in Arizona was the site of Zephyr's world-beating three and a half day flight in July 2008 – the fourth of a series of flight trials that have been flown in the U.S. since 2005. This was the first deliverable following a new enabling contract awarded earlier this year to QinetiQ North America that runs until May 2014 and gives access to up to $44.8 million for operational training in the U.S., accelerated development, in-theater evaluation and possible transition to production of Zephyr and its associated ground station.