The flight in July over the US army Yuma proving ground by the Qinetiq ‘Zephyr’ has been ratified by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI) as a world record for the longest unbroken time spent in the air by an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV). The flight lasted 10 times longer than the previous duration record held by the RQ 4A Global Hawk.
- the absolute duration record for an Unmanned Air Vehicle – being filed at 336 hrs / 22 minutes
- the duration record for a UAV (in the U/1.c / 50-500Kg category) – time as above
- the absolute altitude record for a UAV (in the above category) – being filed at 70,740ft (21,561m)
Launched by hand, the aircraft flies by day on solar power delivered by amorphous silicon solar arrays that cover the aircraft’s wings and are no thicker than sheets of paper. These are supplied by Uni-Solar, the world’s largest producer of flexible solar panels. 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, a leading developer of the next high energy rechargeable battery technology. Together they provide an extremely high power to weight ratio on a continuous day/night cycle, thereby delivering persistent on station capabilities.
Around 50% larger than the previous version, Zephyr incorporates an entirely new wing design with a total wingspan of 22.5m 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 fibre design means it weighs in at just over 50Kg.
Previous records beaten include:
- Surpassing the previous world record for the longest flight for an unmanned air system (set at 30 hours 24 minutes by Northrop Grumman’s RQ-4A Global Hawk on 22 March 2001).
- Surpassing the Rutan Voyager milestone of 9 days (216hours) 3 minutes and 44 seconds airborne – previously the longest flight by an aeroplane without refuelling and set in Dec 1986. Quadrupling its own unofficial duration record of 82 hours, 37 minutes set in 2008