Plane completes two weeks’ continuous flight

An unmanned, solar-powered plane has landed in Arizona after spending two weeks in the air.

The record-breaking Zephyr was launched on 9 July and returned to earth after its creators said the demonstration proved the vehicle could stay in the air indefinitely.

An official from the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI), the world air sports federation, has been monitoring progress, and the team hopes he will soon confirm a number of new world records.

This includes quadrupling its own unofficial world record for longest duration unmanned flight and surpassing the current official world record for the longest flight for an unmanned air system – set at 30 hours 24 minutes by Northrop Grumman’s RQ-4A Global Hawk in 2001.

Zephyr will also have flown longer, non-stop and without refuelling, than any other aeroplane – having significantly passed the Rutan Voyager milestone of nine days.

“Zephyr is the world’s first and only truly persistent aeroplane,” said Neville Salkeld, MD of QinetiQ’s UK Technology Solutions Group.

“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.”

The aircraft flies by day on solar power delivered by amorphous silicon solar arrays as thin as paper. These are also used to recharge the lithium-sulphur batteries which are used to power the aircraft by night.

Around 50 percent larger than the previous model, Zephyr incorporates a new wing design with a total wingspan of 22.5m to accommodate more batteries and a totally new integrated power management system. Its carbon fibre design means it weighs in at just over 50Kg.