Carbon fiber UAV sets flight duration record

Published 15 November 2007

QinetiQ Group’s Zephyr breaks record for the longest duration unmanned flight — 54 hours — nearly doubling Northrop Grumman’s RQ-4A Global Hawk 2001 record of 30 hours, 24 minutes

The Zephyr High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) from Buckingham Gate, London-based QinetiQ Group has exceeded by far the official world record time for the longest duration unmanned flight. Equipped with a lightweight carbon fiber composite airframe, the small, solar-powered, hand-launched Zephyr flew fifty-four hours during trials at the U.S. White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The previous record, set by Northrop Grumman’s much larger RQ-4A Global Hawk on 22 March 2001, was 30 hours, 24 minutes. Note that because there was no certifying officer present at the White Sands site during the Zephyr flight, the QinetiQ effort might not stand as an official world record.

Zephyr, with a wingspan of 59 inches, weighs only 30 kg (66 lb). In daylight flight the UAV’s prop motor feeds on electricity generated by amorphous silicon solar collector arrays no thicker than sheets of paper that cover the aircraft’s wings. By night, it is powered by rechargeable lithium-sulfur batteries which are charged during the day. Potential applications for Zephyr include earth observation and communications relay in support of a range of defense, security, and civil requirements.