Zephyr goes like the wind to claim record

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UK technology group Qinetiq claims its Zephyr High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) UAV has beaten the official world record for the longest unmanned flight by 24 hours .

The time was set during MoD-funded trials at the US military's White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico — but was not a record attempt, explained the company. A spokesman said he was hopeful that White Sands staff would be able to authorise the record application for the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI).

Qinetiq said the UAV flew for 54 hours, exceeding the official FAI world record for unmanned flight — 30 hours 24 minutes — set by Northrop Grumman's RQ-4A Global Hawk on 22 March, 2001.

The hand-launched Zephyr is a 30kg carbon-fibre craft with a wingspan of up to 18m. By day it flies on solar power generated by amorphous silicon arrays covering its wings. At night it is powered by rechargeable lithium-sulphur batteries that are charged by solar power.

The trials validated recent modifications that have improved the UAV's efficiency. These include new solar arrays, a full flight-set of Sion Power batteries as well as a novel solar-charger and bespoke autopilot, which were being flown for the first time.

During the trials the same craft was flown twice while carrying a surveillance payload — first for 54 hours to 58,355ft, and then for 33 hours 43 minutes to 52,247ft.

Qinetiq is counting on missile range staff to authorise record application