Zephyr Solar Plane Sails For Days

The Zephyr solar plane has sailed to a record for sun-powered unmanned flight. The 66-pound craft was aloft for 83 hours and 7 minutes. The plane makes use of ultra-lightweight carbon-fiber to save on weight. It flies on solar power generated by paper-thin silicon solar arrays on its wings.


(Zephyr solar plane takes off)

The Zephyr solar-powered plane is able to fly autonomously, using GPS to keep on track. Launched by hand, Zephyr charges its batteries during the day for night flying. Initially, the plane was flown remotely to an altitude of 60,000 feet; the plane was able to fly by itself for the remaining time.

Other solar-powered surveillance planes are under development, like the amazing Helios craft that has already flown a number of successful test flights (with terrific screensavers available) and the planned DARPA Vulture Five Year Flying Wing. The "five years" part refers to the length of proposed continuous flight time.

Zephyr itself is the result of a collaboration betweent the UK-based company QinetiQ Group PLC and the U.S. military's DARPA.

Science fiction readers find themselves unsurprised by these developments. Planes that soar forever on station? Read about the stratovision television plane from the prescient E.B. White short story The Morning of the Day They Did It. And of course Roger Zelazny's wonderful solar-powered tracer bird surveillance drones.

Via Solar-powered Zephyr plane beats unmanned flight record.

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