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Zephyr, unmanned plane doubled 30-hour record set in 2001 - significance: solar powered, hand-launched, non-stop 82-hour flight


By WcP.Scientific.Mind - Posted on 26 July 2010

Zephyr is prepared for takeoff. It has more than doubled the unofficial record of more than 82 hours

(quote)

Bertrand Piccard - "The pioneer is not always the one who succeeds, but the one who is not scared to fail." 'Zephyr is the world's first and only truly persistent aeroplane,' said Neville Salkeld, MD of QinetiQ's UK Technology Solutions Group. This amazing aircraft, launched by hand, can provide low-cost, non-stop surveillance over persistent surveillance and communications capability measured in terms of weeks, if not months. Not only is Zephyr game-changing technology, it is also significantly more cost effective to manufacture and deploy than traditional aircraft and satellites.'

the Zephyr solar-powered plane recently broke the endurance record for an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)

Zephyr at take off from the US Army's Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona for its endurance record breaking flight for an unmanned air system

British solar-powered unmanned drone finally lands after flying non-stop for two weeks: It has more than doubled the unofficial record of more than 82 hours already held by Zephyr and has smashed the official record of more than 30 hours set in 2001

A British-designed, solar-powered aircraft today finally landed after shattering the endurance record for an unmanned plane. The Zephyr completed two weeks of non-stop flight above a US Army range in Arizona before finally coming in to land. It has more than doubled the unofficial record of more than 82 hours already held by Zephyr and has smashed the official record of more than 30 hours set in 2001.

The Zephyr is the creation of Hampshire-based defence and research company QinetiQ. Launched by hand, the aircraft flies by day on solar power which is then used to recharge the lithium-sulphur batteries, which are used to power the aircraft by night.The aircraft can provide low-cost, non-stop surveillance over months rather than days.

'Zephyr is the world's first and only truly persistent aeroplane,' said Neville Salkeld, MD of QinetiQ's UK Technology Solutions Group. 'We are really proud of the team's achievement which has been supported by expertise from across the QinetiQ business and beyond. 'We've now proved that this amazing aircraft is capable of providing a cost effective, persistent surveillance and communications capability measured in terms of weeks, if not months.

'Not only is Zephyr game-changing technology, it is also significantly more cost effective to manufacture and deploy than traditional aircraft and satellites.' 'We are just really delighted with the performance,' said project manager Jon Saltmarsh. 'It's the culmination of a lot of years of effort from a huge number of really talented scientists and engineers,' he told BBC News.

Record-Breaking, Solar-Powered Flight: British-built unmanned solar plane dubbed the Zephyr has now flown for a record-breaking seven days straight.

Earlier this month, we described the successful flight of Solar Impulse, a manned solar plane that flew for over 26 hours before a safe landing in Switzerland. Now comes news of another feat of solar-powered derring-do. Currently circling above Arizona, a British-built unmanned solar plane dubbed the Zephyr has now flown for a record-breaking seven days straight. Zephyr’s developer, the defense company QinetiQ, hopes the plane can stay aloft and double its own record for a total of fourteen days.

With a 74-foot wingspan, this latest version of the Zephyr is fifty percent bigger than its predecessors. Its designers hope that the plane will one day find use both for military reconnaissance and also for scientific research. Without a payload, it weights about 110 pounds. Says project manager Jon Saltmarsh:

“Zephyr is basically the first ‘eternal aircraft.’… The launch was absolutely beautiful; it was just so smooth,” said Mr Saltmarsh. “We had five people lift it above their heads, start running and it just lifted away into the sky.” [BBC]

The plane is currently circling over its take-off location, a U.S. military installation called the Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert. It uses paper-thin silicon solar arrays that cover its wings for power in the day, which also charge lithium-sulphur batteries for power when the sun goes down.

QinetiQ chose this time and place for its test because the plane can soak up the sun only 32 degrees north of the Equator in the midst of summer’s longer days.

“The sun is tracking as nearly dead overhead as it ever does over US territory just now, meaning that the Zephyr is getting far more energy from its cells than it would farther north or at other times of year. One should note that in operational use the Zephyr will have to power a payload as well as itself–and for much of the year in many locations it will have to do this with less output from its cells than it is getting now.” [The Register]

The Zephyr has already flown for four times as long as the unmanned aircraft that previously held the official endurance record, the United States’ Global Hawk. This one-week flight also doubles the unofficial record held by a previous version of the Zephyr.

SolarImpulse: The History Of Solar Aviation

The Solar Impulse is not the first solar airplane imagined by man, but it is certainly the most ambitious. None of its predecessors has ever managed to make an entire night flight with a pilot on board...

Solar aviation began with reduced models in the 1970s, when affordable solar cells appeared on the market. But it was not until 1980 that the first human flights were realised. In the United States, Paul MacCready's team developed the Gossamer Penguin, which opened up the way for the Solar Challenger. This aircraft, with a maximum power of 2.5 kW, succeeded in crossing the Channel in 1981 and in quick succession covered distances of several hundred kilometres with an endurance of several hours. In Europe, during this time, Günter Rochelt was making his first flights with the Solair 1 fitted with 2500 photovoltaic cells, allowing the generation of a maximum power of 2.2kW.

In 1990, the American Eric Raymond crossed the United States with Sunseeker in 21 stages over almost two months. The longest lap was 400 kilometres. The Sunseeker was a solar motor bike-sail plane with a smoothness of 30 for a tare weight of 89 kg and was equipped with solar cells of amorphous silicon.

In the middle of the 1990s, several airplanes were built to participate in the "Berblinger" competition. The aim was to be able to go up to an altitude of 450m with the aid of batteries and to maintain a horizontal flight with the power of at least 500W/m2 of solar energy, which corresponds to about half of the power emitted by the sun at midday on the equator. The prize was won in 1996 by Professeur Voit-Nitschmann's team of Stuttgart University, with Icare 2 (25 meters wingspan with a surface of 26 m2 of solar cells.)

Even if it did not allow a pilot on board, one could not forget Helios, developed by the American AeroVironment Society on behalf of NASA. This remote controlled aircraft, with a wingspan of more than 70 meters, established a record altitude of nearly 30'000 meters in 2001. It was destroyed during a flight two years later, probably because of turbulence, and crashed in the Pacific Ocean.

In 2005, Alan Cocconi (picture), founder of AC Propulsion, succeeded in flying an unmanned airplane with a 5-meter wingspan for 48 hours non-stop, propelled entirely by solar energy. This was the first time an airplane of this type was able to fly through a whole night, thanks to the energy collected by, and stored in, the solar batteries mounted on the plane.

"The pioneer is not always the one who succeeds, but the one who is not scared to fail."
- Bertrand Piccard

(unquote)

Photos courtesy of PA, redOrbit and Zepher

The solar airplanes Zephyr and Solar Impulse show the way to the future. We believe that we will witness more applications of solar energy soon.

https://www.lagiplan.gr

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