Just a few days after reading the news about the first ultralight solar powered plane being able to fly nonstop for a full day and night, today we get to read about an ongoing attempt of breaking the endurance record, currently set at approximately 30 hours, for unmanned solar aircraft.
The Zephyr plane, produced by QinetiQ, derived from a previous prototype which has been unofficially flying for more than 82 hours, is already flying since more than a week in the skies over the Arizona desert. It is a solar powered plane that with the light of day can fly thanks to solar panels mounted on its wings, particularly designed and with a span of over 22 meters.
Solar panels are as thick as a sheet of paper, and cover the entire surface of the wings which, thanks to their innovative aerodynamic shape, to the T-shaped tail and to an overall weight of only 50 kgs (allowing for the vehicle to be launched by hand), make Zephyr capable of achieving better performance while minimizing energy consumption.
The energy harnessed during the day is used to charge electric engines which activate at sundown, making it possible to fly during the wee hours, and once again accumulating power by day. Therefore, Zephyr is theoretically capable of flying perpetually, unlike many other aircraft, with or without pilot, which need to touch base every now and then.
Its characteristics open interesting opportunities not only in the field of aerial surveillance, allowing for reconnaissance missions that can last up to weeks or months, by installing the correct photo, video, GPS and transmission equipment. Other possible applications for Zephyr might include observation for scientific use or its usage as a “flying antenna” to relay military or commercial telecommunications.