The flight in July over the US army Yuma proving ground by the Qinetiq 'Zephyr' has been ratified by  the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI) as a world record for the longest unbroken time spent in the air by an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV).

The Zephyr took off at 06:41 (MST) in 9th July 2010 and remained in flight for over 336 hours (14 days) smashing the previous record by about 11 times. It also carried a communications payload

The Zephyr, designed and made by the UK company Qinetiq is a solar powered high-altitude long endurance (HALE) Unmanned Air System (UAS). It is designed to remain in the air for weeks if not months and can provide consistent surveillance and communications coverage for all manner of applications from monitoring natural events like forest fires to the obvious aid to the military.

Qinetiq have filed for three world records:

  • the absolute duration record for an Unmanned Air Vehicle – 336 hrs / 22 minutes
  • the duration record for a UAV (U/1.c / 50-500Kg category) – 336 hrs / 22 minutes
  • the absolute altitude record for a UAV (U/1.c / 50-500Kg category) – 70,740ft (21,561m)

The second of these has now been ratified by the FAI.

This craft is designed to be easily transported and provide a very cost effective means of providing low cost persistent coverage when compared to conventional aircraft and satellites. By day its power is derived from solar power cells on the wings, which also charges the onboard lithium sulphur (Li-S) batteries that keep it in flight overnight.

The Zephyr's unique design means that it does not require such the large logistics and support chain that other UAV's need.

In contrast to this, just a couple of months earlier, the US company Boeing had claimed a world record for the internal combustion / jet category keeping its 10.6 metre long Hummingbird UAV with a 136 kg payload aloft for  over 18 hours.

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