Zephyr Solar Powered Plane makes over 200 hour Unmanned Flight
Like the gentle wind for which it is named, the Zephyr unmanned solar powered plane seems to unobtrusively pass through the sky. This is quite a feat since it is not a small plane. Its long, thin body and slender, almost 73-foot wingspan brings images to mind of a giant stick insect or pond skimmer. Whatever terrestrial image comes to mind, the sky is the real domain of the Zephyr and this unmanned solar powered plane is making aviation history.
Unmanned flight has been an aviation goal for decades because of the opportunities it provides for ongoing surveillance and scientific observation. Solar powered unmanned plane technology has been particularly intriguing because it circumvents the fueling challenge. The Zephyr solar powered plane uses paper-thin silicon solar arrays on its wings to capture solar energy for immediate use and as stored energy in lithium-sulfur batteries. The stored energy powers the unmanned plane at night.
The Zephyr unmanned solar powered plane has been flying continuously for close to 200 hours. This airtime already far exceeds the previous record of 33.1 hours set in 2008 by an unmanned traditionally-fueled Northrop Grumman aircraft.
If the Zephyr solar powered plane can be safely landed, it will claim a record for unmanned flight, and make the idea of solar powered perpetual flight one step closer to reality.