A lightweight, solar-powered plane built by British defense and security technology company QinetiQ has broken a world record for unmanned flight by staying aloft for 54 hours, the firm said Sept. 10. The Zephyr, which has an 18-meter (59-feet) wingspan and weighs just 30 kilograms (66 pounds), smashed the previous best of 30 hours 24 minutes by nearly a whole day, flying to a maximum height of 58,355 feet.
It then flew a second time, again beating the previous benchmark set by a jet-powered U.S. Air Force plane six years ago with a time of 33 hours 43 minutes to a height of 52,247 feet.
"The flights have proved that an autonomous UAV can be operated on solar electric power for the duration required to support persistent military operations." By day, the Zephyr is powered by solar panels on its wings. Daylight sun also recharges lithium sulfur batteries that keep it aloft at night.
QinetiQ said the Zephyr could be used in areas like earth observations and communications relay for defense or security operations.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2007