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Solar powered ‘spy plane’ breaks flying record

Where’s the record-breaking, trumpet-toting Roy Castle and Norris McWhirter when you need ’em, eh? A solar powered unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) has set a new unofficial world record for the longest unmanned aerial flight by staying up in the sky for an impressive three and a half days.

The solar-powered Zephyr flew for 82 hours 37 minutes, exceeding the current official world record for unmanned flight which stands at 30 hours 24 minutes set by Global Hawk in 2001 and Zephyr’s previous longest flight of 54 hours achieved last year.

Built by QinetiQ, Zephyr’s development has been funded to date by the UK’s Ministry of Defence, which partnered with the US Department of Defense under their Joint Capability Technology Demonstration Programme, which aims to get cool new technologies more rapidly onto the frontline.

Launched by hand, Zephyr is an ultra-lightweight carbon-fibre aircraft. During the day it flies on solar power generated by amorphous silicon solar arrays no thicker than sheets of paper that cover the aircraft’s wings. At night it is powered by rechargeable lithium-sulphur batteries, supplied by SION Power, which are recharged during the day using solar power.

Simon Bennett, MD of QinetiQ’s Applied Technologies business said in a statementt:

“The trial is a step towards the delivery of Zephyr’s capability for joint, real-time, battlefield persistent surveillance and communications to forces in the field at the earliest opportunity.”

According to QinetiQ, potential applications for Zephyr include earth observation and communications relay in support of a range of defence, security and civil requirements.

More details and photos on the QinetiQ website here.

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