Qinetiq’s Zephyr High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) solar powered Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) achieved its longest flight to date during a set of flight trials at the end of July.
One of the three aircraft flown in the trials flew for 18 hours at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, including seven hours of flying in the dark, the first time Zephyr has flown at night. The aircraft flew using solar power for the ascent, reverting to battery power as dusk fell.
Zephyr is an ultra-lightweight electrically powered aircraft, with a wingspan of up to 16m but weighing less than 30kg. The aircraft uses a combination of solar array and rechargeable batteries and, when fully developed, is expected to operate for months at a time at an altitude above 15,200m, providing a sustained and persistent earth observation platform.
Two Zephyr aircraft were first trialled at White Sands in December 2005, achieving a maximum duration of six hours and an altitude above 8,000m. Both aircraft were successfully recovered and subsequently flown again in the recent July trials. The maximum flight duration was trebled and the maximum altitude increased by a further 3,000m to 11,000m.