Update: Zephyr Solar Plane Lands After Over 2 Weeks (!!!) in the Air
Update 2: Zephyr Solar Plane's 3 World Records Confirmed!
Breaking All Kinds of Records
A couple weeks ago we wrote about the Solar Impulse, a solar airplane that flew for over 24 hours straight. That was very impressive for an aircraft with someone on board, but compared to the solar-powered Zephyr unmanned aircraft, that's child's play. The Zephyr has broken all kinds of records last week by staying in the air for 7 days, and right now it is still flying, trying to get to 14 days of continuous flight without any kind of in-flight refueling (except by solar energy). It's a very cool plane, read on for more details and photos.
22.5 Meters of Wingspan and Just 50 Kilos
The Zephyr can stay in the air for so long because it is powered by the sun. Extremely thin and light solar panels cover its wings and are used to recharge lithium-sulphur batteries, which are used to power the aircraft's engines at night. And with a 22.5-meter wingspan, the Zephyr has a lot of surface for solar panels and a lot of lift relative to its 50Kg weight (thanks to a carbon-fiber body).
Currently flying high above the US Army's Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona, Zephyr has already passed the seven day / 168 hour mark and the clock is still running. This DOUBLES the unofficial world record for longest duration unmanned flight of 82 hours, 37 minutes set in 2008 and already held by Zephyr, and is well in excess of the current official world record of 30 hours 24 minutes set by Northrop Grumman's RQ-4A Global Hawk on 22 March 2001.
The Eternal Aircraft
Qinetiq's goal is to fly the Zephyr for another week on top of the first 7 days (which means that if you are reading this on Monday, July 19, the Zephyr is still in the air) to "prove Zephyr is the world's first truly eternal plane, capable of providing a low-cost, persistent surveillance capability over months rather than days."
Potential applications for such an unmanned aircraft include earth observation and communications, both for the civilian and military sectors. This means that it could help scientists learn more about our planet and its ecosystems, helping us to better protect it, and all that without burning fossil fuel.
We wrote about the early days of the Zephyr back in 2006, but the latest version is 50% bigger.
Via Qinetiq, BBC
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