MoD and Qinetiq prepare for high-altitude trials at Australia's Woomera range

UK research and technology company Qinetiq is to conduct a flight demonstration of its lightweight Zephyr high-altitude long-endurance (HALE) unmanned air vehicle for the UK Ministry of Defence late this month.

To take place at the Woomera test range in South Australia, the demonstration will assess the Zephyr's possible application for military tasks, says a senior source from the MoD's science and technology community.

Originally to have been flight tested during the failed Qinetiq 1 manned balloon altitude record attempt in 2003, the solar-powered Zephyr 3 attracted military interest and subsequent MoD funding for the new trials. Potential applications for the HALEUAV could include reconnaissance tasks, or use as a communications relay platform - a mission where the UK has a shortage. The Royal Air Force has disclosed that it used Lockheed Martin C-130 transports to conduct communications relay duties during recent operations.

Qinetiq's earlier Zephyr 3 design had a 12m (39.3ft) wing span, an all-up weight of 12kg (26.5lb) and an expected operating ceiling of up to 132,000ft (40,200m). The tethered UAV was to have been released from Qinetiq 1 at an altitude of 30,000ft before its solar-powered electric motors were activated, enabling it to circle the balloon until it reached its planned maximum altitude.

The MoD and Qinetiq decline to comment on any subsequent design changes to the earlier Zephyr system, or to detail the objectives of the forthcoming test campaign in Australia. However, an MoD source confirms that initial trials will include operations above 30,000ft.


Source: Flight International