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QinetiQ Zephyr UAV achieves flight record

High altitude, long endurance aircraft flies into the night for the first time
by Staff Writers
Los Angeles CA (SPX) Aug 15, 2006
QinetiQ's Zephyr High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) solar powered Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) has achieved its longest flight to date during a set of flight trials at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico at the end of July.

One of the three aircraft flown in the trials flew for 18 hours, including 7 hours of flying in the dark, the first time Zephyr has flown at night. The aircraft flew using solar power for the ascent, reverting to battery power as dusk fell.

Zephyr is an ultra-lightweight electrically powered aircraft, with a wingspan of up to 16 metres but weighing less than 30 kg. The aircraft uses a combination of solar array and rechargeable batteries and, when fully developed, is expected to operate for months at a time at an altitude above 50,000 feet providing a sustained and persistent earth observation platform.

In addition to confirming the anticipated flight performance, the trials demonstrated a suite of payloads flown onboard two of the aircraft. The UAV platform was successfully used for the first time as a communications relay, demonstrating capability beyond line of sight between handsets on the ground at significant distances in mountainous terrain. A number of different electro-optical and infra-red payloads were also successfully operated, providing a mix of images and video transmitted from the aircraft in real time.

Zephyr has been developed by QinetiQ under a jointly funded programme with the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD). Lord Drayson, Minister for Defence Procurement, praised the Zephyr programme during his key note address at the recent Farnborough International Air Show, describing it as "a truly unique capability".

Paul Davey, Zephyr development director at QinetiQ, said: "I am delighted by our recent flight achievements. The latest trials have validated the design goal for long endurance operations at altitudes above the weather and air traffic and support our goal of being able to offer an operational low cost persistent military capability from 2008."

In addition to supporting defence and security requirements, Zephyr is an ideal platform for a variety of civilian mapping, earth observation and atmospheric sensing applications, for example for pipeline, crop and forestry fire monitoring, fisheries protection and border control.

Two Zephyr aircraft were first trialled at White Sands in December 2005, achieving a maximum duration of 6 hours and an altitude above 26,000 feet. Both aircraft were successfully recovered and subsequently reflown in the recent July trials. The principal aims of the latest trials were to extend significantly the flight envelope and to demonstrate payload capability. Both were achieved - the maximum flight duration was trebled and the maximum altitude increased by a further 10,000 feet to 36,000 feet.

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BAE Systems successfully completed tests on its Skylynx IITM unmanned aircraft system at Yuma Proving Grounds on Aug. 9. During test flights it met key requirements including acoustic performance, endurance, and payload capability for reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition missions.

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