Record breakers

Hot on the heels of last week’s high speed rail trip from Paris to London, UK engineering expertise was this week at the heart of another assault on the record books courtesy of an innovative solar-powered aircraft.


According to UK defence firm, Qinetiq, its Zephyr UAV (The Engineer 16th July) has set a new record for long-duration unmanned flight: flying for 54 hours at an altitude of over 18,000m. This improves on the existing record, set by the US developed global hawk UAV, by more than 20 hours


Though the company failed to alert the authorities in time to have the flight recognised as an official record, there is no good reason to doubt Qinetiq’s claims, and every reason to expect that the diminutive sun-fuelled drone will soon clock up even more impressive performances. Indeed, Zephyr’s creators claim that it should ultimately fly at even higher altitudes for months at a time.


Zephyr is the most advanced of a host of international efforts to develop solar-powered UAVs, and many believe that the lightweight, relatively low-cost design could help usher in a new era of solar powered stratospheric platforms for everything from military surveillance to civil reconnaissance applications.


Ultimately, some claim that such systems could even replace the considerably more expensive low earth orbiting satellites that underpin many of our telecoms networks. If and when they do, the UK engineers behind Zephyr will have earned a worthy footnote in aviation history.




Jon Excell