July 24, 2010

Zephyr Solar Plane Lands After Setting Flight Record

The UK-built Zephyr unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) took its place in history by becoming the first aircraft to stay afloat for 336 hours and 24 minutes.

The solar-powered craft completed two weeks of non-stop flight above a U.S. Army range in Arizona before being ordered to land.

The Qinetiq company that developed the Zephyr said the UAV had nothing to prove by staying in the air any longer.

It broke all endurance records for an unpiloted vehicle before it landed on Friday.

"We are just really delighted with the performance," said project manager Jon Saltmarsh.

"It's the culmination of a lot of years of effort from a huge number of really talented scientists and engineers," he told BBC News.

The plane took off from Yuma Providing Ground on Friday July 9th.

After only 31 hours of being in the air it took over the record for a long-duration flight by a drone. 

The plane endured copious amounts of sunshine to its solar panels at 60,000 ft., helping to charge its lithium-sulphur batteries and keep its two propellers turning.

Zephyr lost some altitude at night, but the energy stored in the batteries was sufficient enough to maintain the plane's flight.

Saltmarsh told BBC that the UAV was no longer an experimental plane and was now ready to begin its operational life.

The Zephyr completed its demonstration during the Farnborough International Airshow.

The UAVs are expected to have a wide range of uses with the military and scientific programs.

"Qinetiq is now looking to the Ministry of Defense and the DoD (US Department of Defense) to put a system into service," said Saltmarsh.

"We have proved the concept; we have proved we can provide persistence; we have proved we can put useful payloads on to it that will actually do things the MoD has a requirement to do."

Andre Borchberg became the first person to pilot a manned solar plane through the night earlier this month.


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