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12/27/2010 | 1 MINUTE READ

Solar-powered Zephyr UAV flight records confirmed

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QinetiQ's solar-powered, composites-intensive Zephyr UAV set the duration record of 336 hours, 22 minutes in July 2010.

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QinetiQ Ltd. (London, U.K.), developer of the solar-powered unmanned aircraft Zephyr, reported on Dec. 23 that the aircraft has now officially been awarded three World Records – including one for the longest flight ever by an airplane (two weeks) and one for altitude higher than any current surveillance aeroplane in its class. These records were achieved on the first flight of the all-new Zephyr aircraft in July 2010.

QinetiQ believes that Zephyr’s ability to fly higher and longer than any other current aircraft offers benefits to a number of potential customers in the military, academic, commercial and scientific arenas.

Flying 13 miles above the ground, Zephyr can watch over a diameter of 600 miles, and has demonstrated this by sending continuous, high-resolution live images back to Earth. This has an advantage over the intermittent, distant and expensive “snapshot per orbit” from satellites flying 100 miles above the earth. Zephyr has also demonstrated its ability to relay essential military and civil communications in remote areas between simple hand-held radios.
Its persistent flight capability, soon to be months, also means that where other aircraft must eventually land, Zephyr can stay in the air for longer, providing an unrestricted view from high altitude.

Aside from having flight capabilities far beyond other aircraft and satellites, Zephyr also offers significant cost savings. It is just one tenth of the cost of other unmanned aerial vehicles and one hundredth of the cost of a satellite.

Commenting on Zephyr’s potential, Chris Kelleher, QinetiQ’s chief designer, said, “Zephyr is a record-breaking piece of aviation design and engineering. It has unique flight capabilities, far beyond any other aircraft and satellites, which could be used in a huge range of scenarios with the lightweight but highly effective payloads we are developing."

Three records have been ratified for the Zephyr:

  • Absolute duration record, unmanned - Longest flying UAV in the world at 336 hours 22 minutes 8 seconds
  • Class Record UAV (50-500kg) – Altitude: At a height of 21,562m.
  • Class Record UAV (50-500kg) – Duration: As above.