QinetiQ, a British aerospace manufacturer, launched its unmanned, solar-powered twin-motored aircaft from the Yuma, Arizona Proving Grounds on July 9, 2010 and landed it today, July 24.
According to QinetiQ’s press release, ” Zephyr successfully landed after 14 days (336 hours) and 21 minutes flying over Arizona and is now awaiting official confirmation of its world record status.”
“An official from the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI), the world air sports federation, has been monitoring progress at the Yuma Proving Ground and when Zephyr is back on the ground he looks set to be able to confirm a number of new world records. This includes quadrupling its own unofficial world record for longest duration unmanned flight (82 hours, 37 minutes set in 2008) and surpassing the current official world record for the longest flight for an unmanned air system (set at 30 hours 24 minutes by Northrop Grumman’s RQ-4A Global Hawk on 22 March 2001). Zephyr will also have flown longer, non-stop and without refuelling, than any other aeroplane – having significantly passed the Rutan Voyager milestone of 9 days (216hours) 3 minutes and 44 seconds airborne, set in December 1986.”
Zephyr is a “production ready” airplane, with the ability to carry various payloads for military and civilian applications. On this record flight, Zephyr carried a communications package “configured to meet the needs of the U. K. Ministry of Defence.”
QinetiQ’s approach of using high-performance Sion Power, Inc. lithium-sulfur batteries and “no thicker than sheets of paper” Uni-Solar photovoltaic cells to charge and store energy during the day and release it overnight emulates the flight profile of the Solar Impulse. Both craft must deal with extremes of temperature, wind and weather. This long-term test should provide some inspiration to the Solar Impulse team, looking forward to topping its achievement of the first night-time manned flight of a solar airplane and preparing for multiple-day missions.