U.S. Department of Energy - Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
Solar-Powered Airplane Achieves Record Unmanned Flight Duration
September 12, 2007
An unmanned solar-powered aircraft has flown for 54 consecutive hours
over the deserts of New Mexico, setting an unofficial record for the
longest unmanned flight. Called the Zephyr High Altitude Long
Endurance Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), the craft features a 59-foot
wingspan covered with thin-film amorphous silicon solar cells from
United Solar Ovonic. The Zephyr flies at night using energy stored in
a rechargeable lithium-sulfur battery pack from Sion Power. QinetiQ
incorporated those technologies into a 66-pound aircraft made of
carbon fiber composites.
Launched from the White Sands Missile Range, the Zephyr flew twice
while carrying a surveillance payload, reaching an altitude of 58,355
feet on its record flight. Funded by a research program of the United
Kingdom's Ministry of Defence, the Zephyr is designed as a high-altitude platform for surveillance or communications. The official
record for a UAV flight is 30 hours and 24 minutes. The Zephyr flight
cannot claim the official record because there was no official witness
from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), or world's air
sports federation, which is the official keeper of aeronautic records.
According to the FAI Web site, QinetiQ has already submitted two world
record claims for the duration and altitude of a Zephyr flight in late
July. See the QinetiQ press release
and the FAI Web site.