QinetiQ has completed the first flight trials of Zephyr - a High-Altitude, Long-Endurance Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (HALE UAV) that has a 12 metre wingspan but weighs just 27 kilograms.
The trials took place at the White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, USA. Two aircraft were flown for four and a half and six hours respectively, the maximum flight times permitted under range restrictions. The maximum altitude attained was 27,000 feet above sea level.
Designed by QinetiQ, the ultra-light aircraft is solar-electric powered, autonomous and is designed to fly at altitudes in excess of 50,000 feet, above normal commercial air-lanes and most weather. The combination of solar panels on the upper wing surface and rechargeable batteries allows Zephyr to be flown for durations of many weeks and even months.
Caroline Slim, Zephyr’s programme director said: “Zephyr uses lightweight solar panels coupled to rechargeable batteries. They are incorporated into the carbon fibre airframe which gives a low weight structure capable of flying at high altitude continuously for several months.
“Zephyr has been transformed from concept to validated flight demonstrator in less than two and a half years. The successful trials at White Sands are testimony to the hard work and expertise of all those involved.”
The White Sands trials successfully validated the performance of Zephyr in terms of minimising the power required to maintain flight. Zephyr is less expensive than the platforms that are normally proposed for high altitude flight and the tests proved that a low-cost UAV can provide persistent operations at high altitudes.
Paul Davey, business development director for Zephyr said: “Zephyr can meet a wide range of civil, defence and security applications, including remote sensing, communications and atmospheric sensing.
“For military customers, it can play a major role in providing low cost battle-space awareness but it has also recently been selected as the platform for the Belgian Mercator HALE UAV system, a remote sensing demonstrator that will be used for mapping.”