Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Brits Spy Drone Sets Endurance Record

DailyTech reports that defense firm QinetQ has set the unofficial world record for the longest continuous unmanned flight with the Zephyr, a British-built spy plane.

The Zephyr stayed in the air for 82 hours and 37 minutes, besting the previous record of 30 hours and 24 minutes held by Northrup Grumman’s Global Hawk.

The plane, which can be launched by hand, has a carbon fiber skeleton that weighs under 70 lbs and an 18m wingspan covered with silicon solar cells. It is powered by a lithium sulfur rechargeable battery that is twice as efficient as any other battery in the world.

Despite the Zephyr’s record-smashing speed, it will not set any official world records. According to the World Air Sports Federation, the plane’s flight did not fulfill the requirements of a world record attempt since it was performed to test the Zephyr’s ability to relay ground radio messages.

But that doesn’t mean the test flight was for naught. The Zephyr’s designers believe that the plane could potentially fly continuously for weeks or months, and the technology has countless military uses. Even more exciting, the Zephyr’s exhibition of solar energy used in flight opens up the possibility of manned solar-powered planes—a development that would revolutionize the aircraft industry.

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