Related Links

  • QinetiQ
  • Elsevier Ltd is not responsible for the content of external websites.

Related Stories

  • Prototype solar powered aircraft unveiled
    The prototype Solar Impulse HB-SIA aircraft was recently unveiled. This carbon composite, solar powered craft is believed to be the first aircraft that will have the capability to be flown both during the day and night without using fossil fuel or emitting any pollutants.
  • Firehole Technologies and AeroMorphology take composites to UAV industry
    Firehole Technologies Inc, a provider of composite analysis and simulation software, is partnering with unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) specialist AeroMorphology LLC to take Firehole’s solutions to the UAV industry.
  • Unmanned aerial vehicles spur composites use
    Unmanned aerial vehicles or UAVs are of growing interest to military operations, but they can also be used in a variety of civilian applications such as monitoring and controlling traffic flow and search/rescue operations. John K. Borchardt reviews some of the latest composites-intensive UAV projects.
    Members' Content


Solar-powered UAV takes flight

A solar-powered unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) made with carbon fibre composite has completed a three and a half day flight in Arizona, USA.

The high-altitude long-endurance (HALE) Zephyr aircraft from QinetiQ of Hampshire, UK, flew for 82 hours and 37 minutes. This unofficially exceeds the current official world record for unmanned flight which stands at 30 hours 24 minutes set by Global Hawk in 2001, and Zephyr's previous longest flight of 54 hours achieved last year.

The 30 kg carbon-fibre aircraft flies on solar power generated by amorphous silicon solar arrays covering the aircraft's 18 m wingspan. At night, it is powered by rechargeable lithium-sulphur batteries supplied by SION Power Inc of Tucson, Arizona, which are charged by the solar cells at day. Zephyr is hand-launched by three people running for about 30 yards (27 m).

QinetiQ could not comment on the production methods used for the aircraft or give component details.

The flight trial, which took place at the US Army's Yuma Proving Ground in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, was held in temperatures up to 45°C. The Zephyr was flown on autopilot and via satellite communications to a maximum altitude of more than 60 000 ft with temperatures dropping below -50°C.

The unmanned solar aircraft can be employed for earth observation and communications relays in support of a range of defence, security and civil requirements.

The development to date has been funded by the UK Ministry of Defence partnered with the US Department of Defense (DoD) under their Joint Capability Technology Demonstration (JCTD) Programme, which is designed to move urgently needed technologies rapidly into the hands of the US forces in the field.

Share this article

More services


This article is featured in:
Aerospace  •  Environment  •  Military/defence


Comment on this article

You must be registered and logged in to leave a comment about this article.