The three world records that QinetiQ applied for after its Zephyr High-Altitude Long-Endurance Unmanned Aerial Vehicle completed a successful 14-day flight in July 2010, have been confirmed by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale. The aircraft has now officially been ratified as staying in the air longer and achieving the highest altitude of any surveillance craft in its class, and setting the absolute duration record of 14 days and 21 minutes.
The ultra-lightweight carbon-fiber aircraft trounced the duration record set by Global Hawk in 2001 by a factor of 11, and managed to rise a good 5,000 feet (1,524 meters) higher (NASA's Helios Prototype, although in a different class, did get a tad higher in 2001). QinetiQ claims that the Zephyr could also help governments, companies and universities cut costs, saying that the vehicle can be produced at "one tenth of the cost of other unmanned aerial vehicles and one hundredth of the cost of a satellite."
The Zephyr benefits from a full flight set of Sion Power lithium-ion batteries that are charged during the day by United Solar's paper-thin amorphous silicon arrays, which cover the aircraft's wings and provide the aircraft's power – day and night. QinetiQ also developed a novel solar charger and bespoke autopilot system for the craft, and for the Yuma, Arizona flight in July also included a UK Ministry of Defense communications payload.
QinetiQ says that development continues towards a goal of having the aircraft stay airborne for months at a time – making the Zephyr even more useful for aerial surveillance, communication, lightweight transport and research scenarios.
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