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Mon, Sep 10, 2007

QinetiQ Says Its Long-Legged Zephyr UAV Set Unofficial Endurance Record

But Record May Not Stick Without FAI Approval

QinetiQ tells ANN its Zephyr High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) recently 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 flight trials were funded through the United Kingdom's Ministry of Defense (MOD) research program.

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 March 22, 2001. As there was no FAI official present at White Sands, however, it may not stand as an official world record.

Launched by hand, Zephyr is an ultra-lightweight carbon-fiber aircraft with a wingspan of up to 18 meters, but weighing just 30 kg. 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.

QinteiQ says 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.

"The possibilities suggested by unmanned flight are truly exciting and with these trials Zephyr has secured its place in the history of UAV development," said Paul Davey, Zephyr business development director at QinetiQ. "Both flights were achieved in the face of thunderstorms and debilitating heat in the hostile environment of the New Mexico high desert in the summertime. They have proved that an autonomous UAV can be operated on solar-electric power for the duration required to support persistent military operations."

FMI: www.qinetiq.com

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