Solar plane flies 7 days non-stop – and is still going

The UK-built Zephyr solar-powered plane has smashed the endurance record for an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).

The craft took off from the US Army’s Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona at 1440 BST (0640 local time) last Friday and is still in the air. Its non-stop operation, day and night, means it has now gone five times longer than the official mark recognised by the world air sports federation.

The plane has been developed by the defence and research company Qinetiq. Its project manager, Jon Saltmarsh, said Zephyr would be brought down once it had flown non-stop for a fortnight.

Zephyr is basically the first ‘eternal aircraft’,” he told BBC News…

The military will want to use them as reconnaissance and communications platforms. Civilian and scientific programmes will equip them with small payloads for Earth observation duties.

Their unique selling point is their persistence over a location. Low-Earth orbiting satellites come and go in a swift pass overhead, and the bigger drones now operated by the military still need to return to base at regular intervals for refuelling.

But as Zephyr has now proved, solar UAVs can be left in the sky.

Their solar cells drive propellers during the day and top up their batteries to maintain the craft through the dark hours of night. An autopilot keeps them circling over the same spot.

RTFA. Lots of detail, interesting details.

The most cynical will be expected to focus in military and police use of the technology. Which is a shame. If that’s all you can think of – we probably should have given up on cameras and binoculars.

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