Today in History – July 31, 2008 - QinetiQ breaks unofficial world record for uninhabited flight over three and a half days US Army’s Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona. The record is “unofficial” as QinetiQ conducted the research under a military contract to perform a military utility assessment of a US Government communications payload. The uninhabited Aerial Vehicle (UAV), called the Zephyr, is an ultra-lightweight carbon-fiber aircraft (wing shown below). It is initially launched by hand, then flies by day on solar power generated by amorphous silicon solar arrays no thicker than sheets of paper that cover the aircraft’s wings. Excess energy is stored in rechargeable lithium-sulphur batteries for use at night. The flight trial at Yuma took place between 28 and 31 July. It was flown on autopilot and via satellite communications to a maximum altitude of more than 60,000ft.
Well it was a world record, when this blog was first written. Like many records, it asks to be broken. This month the Zephyr drone, the latest from QinetiQ, set the endurance record for an uninhabited solar-powered plane by remaining aloft for seven straight days, flying day and night. It reached this record on July 17, 2010 after took off from the U.S. Army’s Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona on July 9, 2010. The Zephyr weighs 117 pounds, has a wingspan of 74 feet and a wing area of about 323 square feet.