FARNBOROUGH: Qinetiq Zephyr claims unmanned endurance record

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Qinetiq is claiming a world record for unmanned flight endurance as its solar-powered high-altitude long-endurance Zephyr surveillance system doubled its own unofficial record by passing through the seven-day/168-hour mark on Friday. After a week in the air above the US Army's proving ground in Yuma, Arizona, Zephyr had also eclipsed the official record of 30 hours 24 minutes set by Northrop Grumman's RQ-4A Global Hawk on 22 March 2001, though its claim to a record cannot be upheld until the aircraft lands safely.

The Zephyr team, which is pushing for two weeks aloft (Flight International, 20-26 July P36), has had an official from the Federation Aeronautique Internationale, the world air sports federation, overseeing the flight. To set an official record an FAI Official has been monitoring progress at the Yuma Proving Ground.

qinetiq zephyr, qinetiq
qinetiq zephyr, qinetiq
 © Qinetiq

Programme director Jon Saltmarsh says the two-week attempt is to prove that "Zephyr is the world's first truly eternal plane, capable of providing a low-cost, persistent surveillance capability over months rather than days".

He calls the hand-launched aircraft a "genuine breakthrough design". With a wingspan of 22.5m, it is twice the size of an earlier version of the concept and weighs just over 50kg (110lb). Power is from amorphous silicon solar arrays on the wings, which also recharge the lithium-sulphur batteries used to power the aircraft by night.