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FAI Confirms Zephyr Endurance Record

December 25, 2010

Officials from the international governing body for air sports records have confirmed that a solar-powered aircraft set a new standard for longest time spent in flight back in July.

The UK-built Zephyr unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) set a total of three records during its flight earlier this year, which officially clocked in at 336 hours, 22 minutes and eight seconds, according to the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI).

The Zephyr also set a new flight duration record for unmanned crafts weighing between 50kg and 500kg, as well as a new altitude mark for its class by reaching heights of 70,741 feet. The airplane, which was built by defense technology firm Qinetiq, earned the nickname “the eternal plane” for its roughly two-week flight back in July.

“This aircraft can help track pirates off the Horn of Africa, alert the authorities about where and how fast forest fires are spreading, and ensure that soldiers’ communications remain unaffected when fighting in mountainous or hilly terrain,” Qinetiq’s chief designer Chris Kelleher told BBC News on Friday.

The Zephyr, which took off from Yuma Proving Ground on July 9, 2010, broke the previous endurance record–as established by Northrop Grumman’s Global Hawk in 2001–after just 31 hours in the air.

The craft itself is made of ultra-light carbon fiber and weighs just 110 pounds. It has a 74 foot wingspan and operates on lithium-sulphur batteries, that are charged during the day and powers the craft once the sun goes down at night.

According to BBC News, “Solar-powered high-altitude long-endurance (Hale) UAVs are expected to have a wide range of applications”¦ The military will want to use them as reconnaissance and communications platforms. Civilian and scientific programs will equip them with small payloads for Earth observation duties.”

“Their unique selling point is their persistence over a location,” the British news organization added. “Low-Earth orbiting satellites come and go in a swift pass overhead, and the bigger drones now operated by the military still need to return to base at regular intervals for refueling.”

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