Posted by John McHale
QinetiQ has filed for three world records for Zephyr , its solar powered high-altitude long endurance (HALE) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), with the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI). Zephyr stayed aloft for 14 nights -- or 336 hrs and 22 minutes -- above the U.S. Army's Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona, before being brought safely back to earth having achieved all the objectives of the trial.
Subject to ratification the records filed include: the absolute duration record for a UAV -- being filed at 336 hours and 22 minutes; the duration record for a UAV (in the U/1.c/50-500 kilograms category) -- same time as above; and the absolute altitude record for a UAV (in the above category) -- being filed at 70,740 feet (21,561 meters).
An official from the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI), the world air sports federation, monitored every aspect of Zephyr's progress at the Yuma Proving Ground from launch to safe landing.
“We now await official FAI confirmation that we have met all necessary criteria,” says Jon Saltmarsh, Zephyr program director. “This is a tremendous achievement, earning Zephyr a well deserved place in the record books and setting a significant milestone in aviation history.”
Easy to transport in a standard road transport container, once launched, Zephyr can remain above a general area for weeks, if not months, at a time delivering vital capability at a fraction of the cost of satellites and significantly more cost effectively than other conventionally powered manned or unmanned aircraft. Zephyr also does not need to return to base at regular intervals for re-fuelling or servicing which helps minimize the logistical supply chain, extending its operational capability and appeal. Its zero emissions also make it exceptionally environmentally friendly.
During the Yuma trial, Zephyr carried a communications payload configured to meet the needs of England's Ministry of Defence. In addition to the defense and security applications, commercial uses include environmental research; monitoring crops and pollution; providing tactical intelligence over disaster zones or forest fires; plus delivering mobile communications capabilities in remote areas.
Launched by hand, the aircraft flies by day on solar power delivered by amorphous silicon solar arrays from Uni-Solar that cover the aircraft's wings and are no thicker than sheets of paper. The solar arrays are also used to recharge the lithium-sulfur batteries that are used to power the aircraft by night and supplied by Sion Power Inc. Together they provide a high power to weight ratio on a continuous day/night cycle, thereby delivering persistent on station capabilities, Qinetiq officials say.
About 50 percent larger than the previous version, Zephyr incorporates an entirely new wing design with a total wingspan of 22.5 meters to accommodate more batteries that are combined with a totally new integrated power management system. The entirely new aerodynamic shape also helps to reduce drag and improve performance. Zephyr's ultra-lightweight carbon fiber design means it weighs in at just over 50 kilograms.