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Solar Plane Breaks Endurance Record 134

Posted by timothy
from the never-even-been-awake-that-long dept.
calmond writes with this excellent snippet from CNET News: "QinetiQ Group PLC claimed Sunday that its propeller-driven aircraft called Zephyr flew for 83 hours and 37 minutes non stop, more than doubling the official world record set by Northrop Grumman's Global Hawk in 2001. The Zephyr is much different from the Global Hawk, which is about the size of a fighter and requires runway for taking off and landing. Zephyr, on the other hand, is an ultra-lightweight carbon-fiber aircraft that weighs less than 70lbs and is designed to launch by hand. The little aircraft flies on solar power generated by amorphous silicon arrays covering the aircraft's paper-thin wings. It is powered day and night by rechargeable lithium-sulfur batteries that are recharged during the day using solar power."
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Solar Plane Breaks Endurance Record

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  • Interesting feat (Score:1, Insightful)

    by geogob (569250) on Sunday August 24, 2008 @08:52PM (#24731395)

    Very interesting might I add. But the suggested applications of such a plane / technology seem to be far fetched. From TFA:

    Zephyr's impressive fight time opens up a lot of potential for the aircraft the fields of earth observation and communications relay.

    Telecom or science equipment tend to be bulky and heavy. Even with the size reductions of the equipment we witness today, it's still big... too big for the payload of such an ultra-light aircraft.

    Furthermore, theseà systems require power; power you either need to carry with you (fuel cells, batteries, etc.) or produce with solar cells. As most of the power from the cells is probably used for flight systems, not much would be left for payload powering, cooling, heating, etc.

    The idea is nice, but for me, at this stage, it's nothing more than a toy to get credits for breaking records. Not a serious attempt to develop a usable platform. The potential isn't that great.

  • Re:Fly forever! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Kjella (173770) on Sunday August 24, 2008 @08:58PM (#24731443) Homepage

    If it was that easy, they could just go to one of the poles where the sun never sets for half a year. Though I suppose the ambient temperature and low angle might be a letdown. On an equally unrealistic note, to travel with the sun at equator it'd have to do 40000km in 24 hours = 1667km/hour. Yes, we can make planes that fast OR planes that lightly glide using solar power but I'm pretty sure we won't get both at once.

  • by Inominate (412637) on Sunday August 24, 2008 @09:08PM (#24731531)

    Yea Goddard's liquid rocket was a waste of time. It only flew 40 feet and couldn't even carry a payload! The idea was nice, but it was nothing more than a child's toy.

    Seriously though, it's a step towards making long term solar powered flight work. Creating aircraft able to keep flying indefinitely on solar power is not trivial. Once we can make it work though, then it's time to start scaling it up and sticking payloads on it.

    A solar powered aircraft able to stay in the air for months or years at a time would be a hell of a lot cheaper than a satellite while being able to perform many of the same jobs.

  • by msauve (701917) on Sunday August 24, 2008 @09:10PM (#24731543)
    from the article:

    the Zephyr's reported flight times didn't meet all criteria laid down by The World Air Sports Federation -- the governing body for air sports and aeronautical world records -- and will probably remain unofficial.

    If I get to set my own rules, I can break records, too.

  • Re:Fly forever! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by moteyalpha (1228680) * on Sunday August 24, 2008 @09:12PM (#24731557) Homepage Journal
    Seems that the path is not that simple. If I start at daylight and travel to the pole it will be 1/4 circumference and it would be morning again on the other side. So more like 400kph?
  • Re:Nope. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jmpeax (936370) * on Sunday August 24, 2008 @09:41PM (#24731761)
    I don't want to get into a big thing here, but if this unmanned aircraft flew for longer than any other unmanned aircraft, it has broken the record. The FAI may deem themselves the ultimate authority on these things, but in my books their lack of involvement doesn't automatically mean a record hasn't been broken.

    I suppose you might question the authenticity of the tests, but given who these people are (and indeed who they work for [e.g. US military]), I think the results can be trusted.
  • by serviscope_minor (664417) on Sunday August 24, 2008 @10:14PM (#24731939) Journal

    No FAI logger/observer=no record.

    No, no FAI logger = no FAI record.

    It may well still be a record, just not an FAI one.

  • So what happened? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bogaboga (793279) on Sunday August 24, 2008 @10:16PM (#24731959)

    I was of the hope that I would know how its flight ended. Sadly, the entire story does not mention this. Anyone in the know about how this magnificent plane's flight ended...or did it crash?

    Or why didn't they just let it continue flying after all it had an endless supply of "juice."

  • by geogob (569250) on Sunday August 24, 2008 @10:25PM (#24732009)

    I do agree with the fact that it's a step forward, and a very nice step. But the article present this as flight time that opens a lot of potential. My point was that, for a practical application, it is not all about flight time. A platform with infinite flight time, but zero payload capability is of no use.

    So, as much as this a good step forward, TFA is a bit over enthusiastic regarding the "opened up" potential.

  • But... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by GameGod0 (680382) on Sunday August 24, 2008 @11:58PM (#24732625)
    This would be cool if the end application wasn't to kill people more effectively.
  • by speedtux (1307149) on Monday August 25, 2008 @01:29AM (#24733145)

    Solar planes are going to reduce the need for satellite and satellite launches. That may lower the cost for some services, but it will also mean that there's less interest in commercial uses of space.

  • by ChrisMaple (607946) on Monday August 25, 2008 @03:45AM (#24733889)

    The Wrights published their flights and marketed their airplanes. They developed them into a successful business.

    Pearse worked in obscurity.

    Flights of Adler's steam powered airplanes were not well-publicized and the French government kept results of the 1897 flight secret for a while.

    Consequently, the momentum of publicity has kept the Wright's name in the forefront. I do not intend to diminish the accomplishments of Adler and Pearse.

    _ It's only reasonable to exclude "flights" outside the atmosphere, otherwise we'll have to make special rules to exclude the moon and man-made satellites from consideration. If you aren't continuously using the atmosphere for aerodynamic lift, you're not flying.

  • by Saib0t (204692) <saibot.hesperia-mud@org> on Monday August 25, 2008 @07:20AM (#24734903)

    Is this informative because of its "anti-american" bend or because it has information? If its because of the provided "information" than the Moderators should actually check out these "factiods" before modding the post. For example: "Valeri Polyakov did a 437 day flight, with a flight distance covering more than 7 thousand times the circumference of the earth. Of course, his flight being disregarded isn't surprising, him not being an American." Yeah... 437 day SPACE FLIGHT....

    I like how you attack the single one item that is definately debatable in the GP's list (note that he mentionned it was space flight too...)

    How about focusing on the 7 prominent relevant others? Nothing to say on that?

When it is not necessary to make a decision, it is necessary not to make a decision.