Qinetiq's latest Zephyr UAV has been in flight for more than a week as of July 16, 2010 at the US Army's Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona. The solar powered high-altitude long-endurance (HALE) Unmanned Air System (UAS) is looking to set a new record and has broken the existing official world record of 30 hours 24 minutes set by Northrop Grumman's RQ-4A Global Hawk on 22 March 2001. QinetiQ invited the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI), the world air sports federation, to oversee the flight and an FAI Official has been monitoring progress at the Yuma Proving Ground. The record will be set when the aircraft lands.
This eternal plane is designed to provide a low-cost, persistent surveillance capability on the order of months rather than hours or days. Other possible applications include earth observation and communications relay for defense, security and commercial applications.
The aircraft's 22.5m wings are covered with thin, amorphous silicon solar arrays. These recharge lithium-sulphur batteries from Sion Power Inc. Battery power is used at night and during overcasts. The system is designed to work in areas with less sunlight while still operating on a continuous day/night cycle. The latest Zephyr is 50% larger than its sibling allowing more battery capacity. The UAV employs a new designed integrated power management system and an autopilot system developed by Qinetiq.
The Zephyr uses an ultra-lightweight carbon-fiber design. The entire aircraft weighs just over 50Kg. The new design uses a new aerodynamic shape and high “T” tail to reduce drag and improve performance.