Qinetiq's high-altitude, long-endurance Zephyr 7 unmanned air vehicle is to fly in mid-2010 for two weeks continuously.

Described by Qinetiq as a pre-production vehicle, Zephyr 7 will have a 22m (72ft) wingspan, a total mass of less than 45kg (100lb) and operate above 60,000ft (18,300m).

Its previous Zephyr 6 design had an 18m wingspan and all-up mass of 30kg, with the extended wing for the new version adding an ogive shape to the wing's ends to reduce drag.

The carbonfibre aircraft is hand-launched and uses paper thin United Solar Ovonic solar arrays fixed to the transparent mylar sheet wing to charge lithium-sulphur batteries during the day to power the aircraft at night.

Qinetiq Zephyr
© Qinetiq

Above: Zephyr 6 is flown over Yuma in August 2009 by NAVAIR personnel  

Qinetiq says Zephyr could fly for up to three months continuously, but because it is solar powered can only operate all-year round in regions within 40° north or south of the equator.

In May Qinetiq was awarded an enabling contract by the US Department of Defense, with military interest focused on long-range signals intelligence missions. If all the potential activity is undertaken, the cost-plus contract would be worth at least $44.8 million until May 2014.

Qinetiq says the contract includes in-theatre evaluation and possible low-rate production. Speaking last May, a DoD official told Flight International that Zephyr could be operated in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Zephyr 6 was flown in Yuma, Arizona in August for up to 25h by US Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) personnel for the first time. The only Zephyr flight of 2009, it may be Zephyr 6's last, unless it is used for training.

"It was very easy for the NAVAIR crew to fly and recover it. Its manpower footprint is very low because it flies on autopilot," says Qinetiq's high-altitude, long-endurance UAV programme business development director Paul Davey.

Source: Flight International