back to article UK's Zephyr robo sun-plane in record-buster 2-week flight

The "Zephyr" solar-powered unmanned plane, which has been airborne continuously for the past two weeks above the Arizona desert, has made a successful landing to break several aviation records. The Zephyr solar-powered UAV before trials in Arizona. Credit: Qinetiq Today, Arizona. Tomorrow, the world - well, the hot bits …


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  1. Will Godfrey Silver badge

    Better than you suggest

    Northern latitude wouldn't be as much of a problem as you think. One of the reasons for poor performance on the ground is the angle of incidence plus much greater distance the light has to travel though UV absorbing air. At high altitude there will not be as much UV absorption as the air is thinner, there is less depth, and the sun will have to go further round before it's obscured.

    If the idea is to eventually have a network of these planes, then I foresee a ring of (say 8) them with the ones is strong sunlight transmitting their 'excess' as lasers to the ones in darkness.

    Remember folks you read it here first - dang, should have got a patent in!

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How long...

    ... for it to take off with that readily pre-configured payload, and fly over to Afghanistan?

    It's only 110° W to 65° E, all on 32° N, after all. What's stopping it from flying over there right now?

  3. JaitcH

    British weather almost guarantees ...

    this thing won't be circling the skies over the UK.

    And what happens if cloudy weather occurs just after sun up when the batteries are low after flying all night?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      It's an aeroplane, so...

      ... it can fly above the clouds. Yes, that has problems with optical imaging, but not with infrared or radar, and if necessairy it could dip below for a bit, then come up again. If it's there more for assisting communications (something like a mobile radio or cellular phone repeater), then flying above the clouds isn't a problem at all. The bigger problem is the lower angle of the sun, meaning less light per area to harvest.

    2. wheel
      Thumb Down

      Would be true...

      ... but it flies at 60000 feet. Not many clouds or much wind up there. Sorry.

  4. Al Jones

    Kandahar is closer to the Equator than Yuma

    Kandahar, in Southern Afghanistan, is at 31°37″N.

  5. Mike Richards Silver badge


    We could use it to surveillance Scandinavia in the summer months. After all, is it just me who suspects the Swedes are up to something bigger than ruthlessly dominating the flat pack furniture and Eurovision market?

  6. more_crap


    All jolly impressive however what QinetiQ avoid mentioning is that the useful payload on this is a few pounds (yes pounds - and with a very limited power budget) so the whole thing is about as useful as a chocolate teapot - hardly surprising of course given the pedigree and the fact that nobody from MOD bothered to ask a simple question like "can this carry anything fucking useful?" before putting more of our money into intellectual frappery.

    Amazing how much publicity they get for this shit.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Ever notice...

      ... what the payload and power budget of a microsat is?

      Then consider that should this work well, it's cheaper to build, easier to deploy, you can even upgrade it, it doesn't run out of fuel, and replacing is a doozy, at least compared to something out in space. The intended payloads, obviously, are those that cram lots of use in very little weight. And yeah, such do exist.

    2. Roger Jenkins

      Chocolate teapot?

      Maybe it is as useful as a chocolate teapot, maybe it isn't.

      What it is, at this stage, is a prototype. Who's to say that more efficient solar cells can't be used, who's to say that the solar cell area can't be increased, motors improved etc


      On the subject of payload. I'm sure that this craft can carry a useful payload that weighs just a few pounds, maybe a good IR camera for instance. We have to remember that the aircraft is cheap to produce and deploy, because of that there is no reason why several cannot be deployed at the same time, each carrying a different sensor pack. Once the data starts to arrive at command, then the sensor data can be combined to produce a composite of the target area. Cheap cheerful and posibly very effective.

      I don't know if all of the above is true. But, I can see the possibility.

  7. rahul

    This is amazing...

    ... and so misplaced in a military concept; for example, unleash this over a flood-affected area, and you can get a continuous real-life idea of the damage, people to be rescued, etc; shove in a comms unit and rescue teams can have communications inspite of on-ground infrastructure being damaged etc...

    This is truly pioneering and ground breaking.

  8. Richard Porter
    Thumb Up

    Without refuelling?

    Surely it refuelled itself every day?

  9. someone up north

    a perfect siting duc for shoting practice for the afgan

    such a plan is a perfect siting duck for shooting practice for the afghan missile

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Down

      If you can see it...

      You won't have anything to point your missile at if it either doesn't show up on radar, or if it is invisible to the eye. Remember... no heat signatures... this thing runs on electricity.

    2. Anonymous Coward

      @someone up north

      What Afghan missile?

      Even if the Taliban have access to SAM's, then they are likely to be man-portable types with no chance of hitting this.

      1) It's flying at 60,000 feet; a Stinger can maybe reach 15,000 feet.

      2) Most MANPADS are infra-red seekers; this thing doesn't have a hot gas turbine engine to seek.

  10. Will Godfrey Silver badge

    @someone up north

    Depending on the missiles guidance system, this might actually be a very difficult target to hit.

  11. Big-nosed Pengie


    How the fuck do you pronounce that? Kwineetikwa?

    Didn't anyone tell them that Q has the followed by U. (Don't instance QANTAS - it's an acronym.)

    1. Anonymous Coward

      This is not a title, its required padding.



  12. Anonymous Coward
    Dead Vulture

    You really are a terrible bore LP

    Qiniteq - contraversial war boffinry - no opportunity for denegration refused.

    DARPA - crazy war boffinry - affectionate references always.

    Zephyr - always cast in a dubios light, weaknesses highlighted.

    Vulture II - Still sod all more than a few pretty drawings yet spoken of in reverential and adoring terms.

    Whatever your problem is with the british military, please get over it.

    How about some hard facts or science regarding how 'little' of the planets land mass this can cover? We are a month past the solstice and as another poster points out southern Afghanistan including parts of the Pakistan border are below 32 degrees north. So Zephyr could have been flying there for the past 2 months at least. How close to the equator does it need to be to fly continuously? Flying at 60,000 feet how far north does it's effective range extend?

    At 32 deg north sunrise is at 07:11 today. 6 degrees further north (Northern Afghanistan) sunrise is just 14 minutes later. What difference does 28 minutes of low level light per day make? As for your 'the Sun is tracking almost dead overhead', 71.4 degrees max altitude today. 'Very high in the sky' I'd have given you but 'almost dead overhead' is personal agenda motivated spin.

    1. Anomalous Cowherd Silver badge

      Not just sunrise

      Angle of incidence, old chap. It's not 28 minutes of low-light, it's the sun sitting 50-odd degrees lower in the sky at mid-winter, with a corresponding drop-off in solar radiation (= power). That's why it's colder in winter.

      To be fair that's all well and good on the ground, and I'm not sure how this applies at 60,000ft.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Probably much the same...

        ... since the thing's wings stay parallel with the earth right below it (gravity, excepting turns etc.) and so it doesn't change angles like following the earth's curve would see it do, which is what changes the angle of incidence.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Down

      re. You really are a terrible bore LP

      I think, in this case, LP is referring to the fact the QINETIQ was formed from the state owned DERA (Defence Evaluation & Research Agency). This was at something of a knock-down price (to say the least) and the UK taxpayer has been ripped off to the tune of hundred of millions of pounds.

      I'm sure that LP will applaud QINETIQ's technical achievements here, but it still grates on UK taxpayers that any profits later down the line will end up in the pockets of Sir John Chisholm.

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