On August 24, QinetiQ filed for three world records for Zephyr, its solar powered high-altitude long endurance (HALE) Unmanned Air System (UAS), with the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI), subject to ratification for achieving:
• the absolute duration record for an Unmanned Air Vehicle – being filed at 336 hrs / 22 minutes
• the duration record for a UAV (in the U/1.c / 50-500Kg category) – time as above
• the absolute altitude record for a UAV (in the above category) – being filed at 70,740ft (21,561m)
Qinetiq says Zephyr was launched at 06:41 (MST) on 09 July 2010 and stayed aloft for 14 nights (336 hrs / 22 minutes) above the US Army's Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona, before being brought safely back to earth on the morning of 23 July having achieving all the objectives of the trial.
An official from the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI), the world air sports federation, monitored every aspect of Zephyr’s progress at the Yuma Proving Ground from launch to safe landing. “We now await official FAI confirmation that we have met all necessary criteria,” stated Jon Saltmarsh, Zephyr Programme Director. “This is a tremendous achievement, earning Zephyr a well deserved place in the record books and setting a significant milestone in aviation history.”
Easy to transport in a standard road transport container, once launched, Zephyr can remain above a general area for weeks, if not months, at a time delivering vital capability at a fraction of the cost of satellites and significantly more cost effectively than other ‘conventionally powered’ manned or unmanned aircraft. Zephyr also does not need to return to base at regular intervals for re-fuelling or servicing which helps minimise the logistical supply chain, extending its operational capability and appeal. Its zero emissions also make it exceptionally environmentally friendly.
During the Yuma trial, Zephyr carried a communications payload configured to meet the needs of the UK Ministry of Defence. In addition to the obvious defence and security applications, commercial uses include environmental research; monitoring crops and pollution; providing tactical intelligence over disaster zones or forest fires; plus delivering mobile communications capabilities in remote areas.
Chris Kelleher, QinetiQ’s chief designer added: “We’re delighted that Zephyr should soon enter the world record books as it is set to transform the delivery of current services such as communications, and lead to many new applications which are not possible or affordable by other means. We’ve now proved that this world-beating aircraft is capable of providing a cost effective, persistent surveillance and communications capability measured in terms of weeks, if not months.”