Zephyr, that is, the pilotless aircraft, powered by solar energy, which a while ago was launched by QinetiQ over the Arizona skies for an endurance test, after the end of its adventure is now the official holder of three world records in its category, and those records have just been ratified by the FAI (Fédération Aeronautique Internationale).
Specifically, we are talking about the absolute endurance record for an UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) type aircraft, the endurance record in the category between 50 and 500 kilos, and the absolute altitude record, with a flight that reached a height of over 70000 feet, equivalent to roughly 21500 meters.
Zephyr is a HALE (High Altitude Long Endurance) unmanned aircraft, designed to float at high altitudes for weeks or months in a row, in order to provide continuous monitoring on a specific area. This newly established endurance record, during a test flight on the Arizona desert, had it floating in the air for over 14 days, but in its designers’ intentions, this record should be easily outdone in the future.
This is made possible by its solar power, provided by solar cell panels placed on Zephyr’s wings, and thanks to an electric engine which would use less power than the amount actually harnessed by the solar panels, in order to gain a reserve of power to be used during the night to keep the vehicle in the air and provide power for its on-board systems.
Thanks to Zephyr, it will be possible to carry out aerial monitoring missions much more flexible than those currently done via satellites, and most of all, at a much lower cost, both in terms of launch and operation, and as far as normal maintenance is concerned.
Furthermore, thanks to the fact that it is powered by a renewable energy, Zephyr is perfectly compatible with the current trend oriented towards a new generation of drones, with no pilot and zero polluting emissions, in order to keep ground personnel safe during military missions, while keeping the air clean.
Apart from a strictly military reconnaissance usage, Zephyr can also be used in the telecommunication field, acting as some sort of “flying antenna” top reach areas where a radio or telephone coverage is not present, such as for example mountainous areas in Afghanistan, where ground troops may encounter difficulties in communicating with their base due to the particular morphology of the terrain.
Of course, its long endurance characteristics also make it suitable for a scientific usage for reconnaissance and aerial photography in areas of particular interest, or for a civilian usage in telecommunications, for example to restore phone connections with areas hit by a natural disaster, in order to guide rescuers towards the most severely affected points.