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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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  • by LWATCDR (28044) on Sunday August 24, 2008 @08:45PM (#24731345) Homepage Journal

    Manned aircraft still have that record beat. Humm several days in an airplane... What fun.

    • 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.

      • by poopdeville (841677) on Sunday August 24, 2008 @09:20PM (#24731609)

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

        Maybe. That doesn't mean their record isn't legitimate, especially if the "rule" they disregarded was irrelevant, and especially since they have flown further than anybody else.

      • by jmpeax (936370) * on Sunday August 24, 2008 @09:27PM (#24731665)
        The "rule" they didn't follow was to have the relevant organisation in on the action. From the BBC:

        [The record] remains "unofficial" because QinetiQ did not involve the FAI (Federation Aeronautique Internationale), the world air sports federation, which sanctions all record attempts.

        I think it's fair to say that regardless of who officiates it, they have broken the record.

        • by msauve (701917)
          as your own cite says: the FAI "sanctions all record attempts." It's not a record, especially since they apparently self-officiated.
          • 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.
            • Verification (Score:5, Interesting)

              by mcrbids (148650) on Monday August 25, 2008 @03:22AM (#24733731) Journal

              Don't confuse a "feat" with a "record". Feats are what people do. Records are feats that can be proven to have happened. If an achievement is not properly documented, there's no way to know for sure whether it was done.

              So it's not whether or not the feat was surpassed, it's whether the feat was surpassed in a way that can be verified. I can say to you that I've got a cure for cancer, or tell you that I can run 30 MPH barefoot, but neither claim means anything there's some verification of the process - some official body (EG: the American Medical Association in the United States) has performed testing to some standard process to verify that the cancer cure I claim actually works at least most of the time. (In medicine, almost nothing works 100% of the time, not even aspirin [drugtext.org])

              You and I have no particular doubt that they flew the time they're claiming. But if it has not passed the most widely recognized process for validating this record, the RECORD still stands, and will stand until the proper process has been followed to record the fact that the old record has been broken.

              However, they have a plan, which entails aircraft like this flying for MONTHS ON END. So they probably don't much care about documenting the record, since their numbers are likely to improve dramatically over the next year or so. Why go through the effort of documenting what is, for them, a rather minor, incremental step, solely to prove a record?

              • by vertinox (846076)

                Don't confuse a "feat" with a "record". Feats are what people do. Records are feats that can be proven to have happened. If an achievement is not properly documented, there's no way to know for sure whether it was done.

                I thought this was more of a "proof of concept" rather than breaking any records. I think this team's main goal is get a working prototype the military can use for reconnaissance missions.

                Arguing whether it broke an official record will be a moot point once they get a production model in the

              • If an achievement is not properly documented, there's no way to know for sure whether it was done.

                Ah, the philosophical question: If a plane flies for 83 hours and 37 minutes and nobody sees it, did it really fly?

        • NO FAI record claim can be lodged, and quite right too. Any FAI record claim must be overseen by a registered FAI official observer, who checks data loggers installation and seals. The loggers use an encryption system, and strong physical security to prevent cheating

          No FAI logger/observer=no record.

          There would be several official FAI observers at each gliding club just about everywhere, so they are easy enough to find if needed. If these guys really wanted an official record they should have followed the ru

          • by LWATCDR (28044)

            If the FAI has a logger that would fit this critter.
            Also I wonder if they could have gone for an AMA record. If I remember the AMA has it's own records for some categories.
            I could be be mistaken since I have not looked into that stuff for a very long time.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            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.

          • ... especially the one that says the FAI is the authority?

            • That would be the worlds sport aviation bodies, who mostly delegate matters involving records to the FAI.

              Without an FAI logger (More correctly called an IGC logger, not an FAI logger, as they are mainly used for gliding, powered aircraft records are mostly pointless) there is no real world proof, other than the word of the manufacturers. The loggers are made by a few different manufaturers,
              such as LX navigation, Volkslogger and EW.

              No FAI/IGC logger = no CREDIBLE record. Does that make it easier to understa

            • by maxume (22995)

              When you are making a list, the guy with the pencil is pretty much always the ultimate authority.

      • The plane was made and flown by QinetiQ, the semi-commercial part of the UK's military R&D. They are building the plane for the US military.

        They were probably quite happy to let the world know their plane is sort of the best you can get, because they are expected to make money these days and are looking for business.

        On the other hand it's military, they are hoping to sell it to the US military, so they probably didn't want to give all the secrets away. I can't see them letting some "sports federation" o

    • by icegreentea (974342) on Sunday August 24, 2008 @09:58PM (#24731843)
      The record for longest manned flight is 64 days.

      http://thelongestlistofthelongeststuffatthelongestdomainnameatlonglast.com/long219.html
      http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/special_report/1998/11/98/great_balloon_challenge/299568.stm

      Cessna out of Nevada flew for 64 days, 22 hours, covering the equivalent of 6 circumferences of the earth. In flight refueling, and they dropped down to just above ground level to pick up supplies from a chase car.
      • by arth1 (260657) on Monday August 25, 2008 @01:39AM (#24733205) Homepage Journal

        The record for longest manned flight is 64 days.
        [chop]
        Cessna out of Nevada flew for 64 days, 22 hours, covering the equivalent of 6 circumferences of the earth. In flight refueling, and they dropped down to just above ground level to pick up supplies from a chase car.

        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.
        Consider:

        Eilmer of Malmesbury, who flew 220 yards in a glider in the 11th century
        Lagari Celebi, who flew an unspecified distance with a rocket in 1633 (well documented!)
        Henri Giffard, who flew 16 miles in a powered airship in 1852
        George Cayley, who flew a mile in a controlled glider in 1853
        John Stringfellow, who flew several dozen feet in a powered monoplane in 1868
        Clement Adler, who flew 60 yards in a powered monoplane in 1890, and 320 yards in 1987
        Richard Pearse, who flew over 1000 yards, including a controlled turn, in May 1903
        Orville Wright, who flew 120 yards in a powered but wind-aided biplane in December 1903
        Wilbur Wright, who flew 190 yards in a powered but wind-aided biplane in December 1903

        Who gets honoured with having made the first flight? The Americans, of course! The "rules" have been rewritten several times after the fact to include the Wrights and exclude others.

        So I guess that the rules for flight now specifically excludes orbital flights in order to disqualify MIR. Eppur si vola.

        • by uhlume (597871)

          I don't necessarily wish to disagree with your overall point, but your way of making it is asinine. Claiming that Valeri Polyakov "did a 437 day flight"? Disingenuous at best, assuming you're referring to Polyakov's 14 months [wikipedia.org] in orbit on a space station and not some hitherto undocumented atmospheric flight of his. Why are you comparing this to a manned flight record set in a Cessna?

        • 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 uhlume (597871) on Monday August 25, 2008 @03:48AM (#24733901) Homepage

          >

          So I guess that the rules for flight now specifically excludes orbital flights in order to disqualify MIR. Eppur si vola.

          "Orbital flight" would be a misnomer at best. An object in orbit isn't "flying", it's falling.

          And no, I don't think that's nitpicking. Once you're in orbit, it's not much of a feat to remain there, supply logistics notwithstanding.

          • "Orbital flight" would be a misnomer at best. An object in orbit isn't "flying", it's falling.

            So you're saying that they do not so much fly as plummet.

          • by fizzup (788545) on Monday August 25, 2008 @11:15AM (#24737323)
            The trick to flying is to fall, and then forget to hit the ground.
          • by kimvette (919543)

            Good point. I wouldn't consider an orbit to be flight in any record-breaking sense. The journey UP to orbit? Sure. Maybe. The journey back? Sure. Maybe. However, manned orbit is a completely different category from flight in the sense that aircraft fly. As you said, an orbit is a controlled fall, and does not rely upon lift.

            Even rocket planes which do fly in the atmosphere blur the lines and should be a separate category, especially if they cross the "official" demarcation of space. It ceases to be flight i

        • by antirelic (1030688) on Monday August 25, 2008 @06:19AM (#24734613) Journal

          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....

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valeriy_Polyakov [wikipedia.org]

          No one was talking about "manned space flight"... because in that case, no shit sherlock, 60 odd days isnt shit.

          The Americans didnt "change the rules". The reason the above mentioned individuals werent given credit for the "discovery" of flight is because their inventions simply did not translate into successful reproducible air travel. I mean, those guys dont have anything on... BIRDS... that were flying long before man. Why were BIRDS given credit for the discovery of flight...

          "So I guess that the rules for flight now specifically excludes orbital flights in order to disqualify MIR. Eppur si vola."

          Yes sparky... RTFA... This is about UNMANNED SUB ORBITAL flight... because if you werent then you would have to talk about VOYAGER I and II... which are have been going for 30+ years and are unmanned and again... American. Oh snap...

          • by savuporo (658486)
            Dude, Wrights efforts did not directly translate into successful air travel either. The 1903 december flight by Wrights was quite obscure at the time, and Wrights kept well out of public sight for quite long time after that. What Otto Lilienthal did had far more influence wordlwide, Bleirot and Curtis as well. The simple matter of fact is that no party single handedly invent flight or translated it into reproducible air travel, they all had their part to play.
            • by LWATCDR (28044)

              Actually in a way the did.
              The Wight company went on to build most of the engines that powered the first practical airliners. That that where not powered by Wright engines where powered by Pratt and Whitney engines, a company that was started by former Wright engineers.

              • by savuporo (658486)
                I dont know but Rolls Royce, Bentley, Bristol, Napier , Daimler-Benz, Gnome Engine Company, Junkers and a whole lot of others would argue with that.
                • by LWATCDR (28044)

                  Rolls Royce really wasn't used by many airliners until they went to jets.
                  But take a look at the how many none US airliners used Wright, P&W or P&W derived engines.
                  The Fokker Trimotor line, JU-52, JU-86 "BMW bought the rights to make P&W engines", And on and on.
                  But yes the Wright engine legacy if you include P&W which I think is fair gives them a HUGE place in the history of aviation.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Saib0t (204692)

            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?

          • by LWATCDR (28044)

            Actually I think Vanguard wins that one. Last time I checked it was the oldest man made object in orbit.

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Oooh, I can't let this statement go unchallenged!!!

          I also believe the early reports of flying achievements are greatly skewed by American supporters of the Wright brothers, but I do believe that one should be accurate in attacking this. This list has several inaccuracies which need correcting!

          There is no indication that Cayley's flights were controlled. Stringfellow flew models, not man-carrying machines. Richard Pearse's amazing achievements were never, unfortunately, properly documented, so the assertion

        • by meyekul (1204876)

          Clement Adler, who flew 60 yards in a powered monoplane in 1890, and 320 yards in 1987

          I find this hard to believe, unless old Clement flew on their day of birth and then again when they were 97 years old..? One error like this, typo or not, kind of throws off your whole point.

        • by LWATCDR (28044)

          "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."
          Yes his record count but not in this classification.
          That record is for orbital duration and not for atmospheric flight. It fails on a number of counts including that he didn't takeoff and land in the same craft!
          "Eilmer of Malmesbury, who flew 220 yards in a glider in the 11th century"
          Not p

          • by arth1 (260657)

            "Lagari Celebi, who flew an unspecified distance with a rocket in 1633 (well documented!)"
            How could the distance be unspecified but the flight well documented?

            It was well documented that it occurred. It was done as part of a celebration for a Sultan's birthday, unless I remember wrong. With lots of witnesses, and the brave pilot even receiving a title (Spahi?) as a reward. He landed in the sea, and no-one thought about marking the spot and measuring the distance. That wasn't what was important. That he

            • by LWATCDR (28044)

              No the goal was always a powered controlled flight.
              You could be shot out of cannon but that doesn't count. You can be flung from a catapult and that doesn't count.
              The goal was to take off and land where you want to in a heavier than air craft. You just think the goal posts moved because you never really knew what they where to start with. Kind of like wanting to count a stay on a space station.
              The Wrights made the big break through. The final part of the puzzle. They figured out how to turn. If you can not

              • by arth1 (260657)

                The Wrights made the big break through. The final part of the puzzle. They figured out how to turn.

                No, they didn't. They used an inferior design that they had outright stolen from others, which implied twisting the wing surfaces. And they did no turns on their first two flights, either.
                Pierce had already done turns six months earlier, on a plane equipped with proper ailerons. Which was WAY ahead of the silly wing twisting that the Wrights used.

                • by LWATCDR (28044)

                  Um get over Pierce he even contradicted himself. He fails the documented criteria. Just look up the Wikipedia entry.
                  It wasn't just wing warping it was combining roll "wing warping" and yaw "rudder" to make a turn.
                  Oh and wing twisting may be making a come back. It does have a some advantages over ailerons. NASA has been testing an F-18 that using wing warping! If Pierce had document his flight then maybe he would have gotten some credit but he didn't.

  • If they could make one of these solar powered things fly fast enough to be in daylight at all times, it could fly forever! Well, at least until something goes wrong. :-(
    • 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.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by moteyalpha (1228680) *
        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: (Score:3, Informative)

        As explained in the BBC article, flying over one of the poles is not necessary to fly forever. This team is now working on a defense project codenamed Vulture to extend their design to be able to fly non-stop for 5 years on any spot on the Earth's surface. Although they don't mention why Zephyr couldn't fly more than 84 hours, presumably it was either because it wasn't able to recharge its batteries fast enough during daytime, or they voluntarily stopped the experiment after 84 hours. In any case it looks l
        • With that kind of range, the non-military applications are quite exciting. A solar powered aircraft can be used as a relay, just like a communications satellite, but with much lower latency. Rather than building towers on the ground, we can start popping them in the air, where they have line of sight to a much larger area. This would be a huge boost for telecommunications in third-world countries, where a few thousand of them could be deployed in a mesh network covering an entire area and only needing a
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by jmpeax (936370) *
      Actually, it doesn't need to be daytime for it to operate, hence how it was able to stay airborne for 83 hours. It uses high capacity batteries to get through the night. [bbc.co.uk]
      • by mi (197448)

        But it did come down, which means, some resource got drained... Which one? The batteries, which may have been only partially recharging during the day, is one possible explanation....

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

          by Thagg (9904) <thadbeier@gmail.com> on Sunday August 24, 2008 @10:54PM (#24732191) Journal

          But it did come down, which means, some resource got drained... Which one? The batteries, which may have been only partially recharging during the day, is one possible explanation....

          The first people to fly a solar-powered plane through the night, Tom Gage and his team at AC Propulsion, flew for 48 hours...and could have probably flown forever -- the resource that was drained was the on-ground pilots.

          The plane was flown to use thermals as much as possible during the day, but it was tiring work.

          Anyway, after two days, and with a battery charge higher than what they started at, they figured that they had made their point.

          • Re:Fly forever! (Score:4, Interesting)

            by rcw-home (122017) on Monday August 25, 2008 @12:27AM (#24732797)

            The plane was flown to use thermals as much as possible during the day, but it was tiring work.

            Perhaps for military use it's desirable to fly that low, but another way to get a solar plane flying forever is to get it light enough and get the sink rate low enough (1 foot/second) that it can glide all night (100000 feet -> 40000 feet) and still be in the lower stratosphere by sunrise. That way you don't need batteries, and you'll always be above the clouds and weather.

            A plane designed for this will be flimsy and fly extremely slowly near ground (slower than walking speed), so it'd have to be launched and retrieved during calm weather, but once up, there would be very little to go wrong - at most latitudes it could circle in one spot indefinitely.

  • Yeah, but ... (Score:2, Redundant)

    by PPH (736903)
    ... the leg room in first class sucks.
  • Interesting feat (Score:1, Insightful)

    by geogob (569250)

    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 e

    • 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.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by geogob (569250)

        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.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by plover (150551) *

          A platform with infinite flight time, but zero payload capability is of no use..

          You're probably too young to remember seeing them, but the Echo series of communications satellites were simply 100 foot diameter mylar balloons. They were passive -- they had no payload at all -- but NASA was able to bounce radio signals off of them.

          A stationary "mirror in the sky" might make for a good way to bounce radio signals into and out of a hostile area without the power requirements needed for satellite communications.

          Just because there is no apparent practical application doesn't mean there

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by g0dsp33d (849253)
            There's also a lot less latency when you don't have to go the extra few miles between syn and ack packets.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Shihar (153932)

        I think the quasi-satellite implications of this really can't be overlooked. Shooting things into space, especially into a geosynchronous orbit is really expensive. Shooting things simply into orbit is still extremely expensive AND you need to launch multiple satellites to get continuous coverage. If you could pop a few of these up at a fraction of the costs, you could get massive coverage, extremely cheaply.

        For a place like the US that would be neat and useful, but where it would REALLY pay dividends wo

        • The thing you forget to mention is latency. Geosynchronous orbit is 35,800Km above sea level. This works out as 0.119 seconds [google.com] each way, giving to an absolute minimum round trip time of a quarter of a second, assuming you have infinitely fast switching at both ends. The round trip time to something in the atmosphere from a point directly below it is under 160us[1]. For reference, the round trip time including protocol and switching overhead to a machine on my local wireless network is 1ms. This means tha

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by kylemonger (686302)
      These little planes might be useful in disaster situations, when ordinary comms are down. Wi-Fi capability has already been crammed into the SD card form factor. Seems likely that a very light weight Wi-Fi access point could be constructed as well. With that, how many of these planes would need to be launched to provide a communications network over an area wrecked by an earthquake or a flood?
      • by corsec67 (627446)

        If your "communications" could be data instead of voice, then I have an example of exactly how small a network could be, with existing wireless sensor nodes [flickr.com]. That one is on a USB for a "base station", and is normally powered by 2 AAs, with the whole computer being the size of the back of the AA battery pack. The range on the radios there are about 100 meters.

        If the AA batteries aren't needed, like if the plane is going to provide power, that is a very small and lightweight network.

    • Even a payload on the order of 10kg would be very useful if the cost of the aircraft is practical. Remember, the launch costs are close to nil, so all you have to pay for is the craft itself and maybe come access to ground or satellite based monitoring and control. I can imagine many agencies, departments and private organisations would have a lot of use for something like this.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Timbotronic (717458)
      According to the BBC article it carried a 2kg payload. That's enough for a decent observation and communications platform and this is only a prototype - they're talking about a much bigger version that could stay aloft for months.

      Sion Power [sionpower.com] make the Lithium Sulfur batteries and they claim an energy density that's almost twice that of Lithium Ion. If that's true the power shouldn't be too much of a problem once the UAV's reached cruising altitude. It would be good to know some more about those batteries..
    • by julesh (229690)

      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.

      On this test flight, the plan

  • by Gruff1002 (717818) on Sunday August 24, 2008 @09:21PM (#24731619)
    Sulfur is a relatively cheap material, so lithium-sulfur batteries have the potential to be less expensive than other battery types. With a lower starting cost to manufacturers, lithium-sulfur batteries could save consumers money. There is also a possible cost savings because lithium-sulfur batteries tend to provide much longer charges than lithium ion batteries. With double the lifetime or greater, you might be able to get by with a single lithium-sulfur battery for your laptop or rechargeable hand tool. Another reported advantage of lithium-sulfur batteries is their ability to work well in very cold weather. www.wisegeek.com
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by timmarhy (659436)
      wrong. it's price has gone through the roof in the last few months.
    • Apparently the higher energy-density Li-S batteries use a compound called Thionyl Chloride [wikipedia.org], which is toxic, corrosive, and controlled as a chemical weapon. Not a comforting thought, having those flying around overhead, unmanned.
      • I've actually heard quite a bit about Lithium-Polymer batteries that sounds promising. I first saw one in my old Erisson T-28 cellphone, and it made the thing light as a feather.

        More recently Apple is using them in the AirBook to cut down on weight. 2 big advantages of Li-P: during the construction phase you can literally pour the material into any shape you want. Also ounce for ounce it is (or was, before I heard about the Sulfur batts) the lightest battery out there.

        There were some drawbacks, namely if a

  • Like a paper airplane? But bigger?
    • See the RQ14 Dragon Eye. It's a Marine Corp UAV. You launch it with a bungee cord. I imagine if your arm was strong enough, you really could launch this one like a paper airplane too.
  • http://tech.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=07/09/10/1917254 [slashdot.org]

    Solar Craft Flies Through Two Nights
    Posted by ScuttleMonkey on Monday September 10 2007, @03:43PM
    from the nasa-awash-with-envy dept.
    Power Technology
    An anonymous reader writes "A solar-powered, unmanned craft has flown for 54 hours -- a record for both unmanned aerial vehicles and solar craft. None before has managed to store enough solar energy to fly through more than one night. There is also a video showing the 18m carbon fiber wing craft being launc

  • by Duncan Blackthorne (1095849) on Sunday August 24, 2008 @09:45PM (#24731779)
    If my hunch is correct, then QinetiQ isn't very upset by not being listed as a world-record-breaker with this flight. Qinetic is a military contractor. Unless I'm completely mistaken, this plane being constructed with so much carbon fiber, wouldn't it have a very small (perhaps non-existent) radar signature? I'm sure it could carry a small payload, like reconnaisance cameras, for instance? All that plus no need to refuel, and I'd say that the military would be very interested in contracting QinetiQ to build a fleet of these for them. I'd also imagine that you could include a satellite uplink to the payload, and never have to even have the thing land in order to download it's recorded recon data.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by kievit (303920)

      I looked at the checklist [fai.org] on the internation aeronautics federation web site, and it looks like QinetiQ could easily have complied with the rules, they just had to invite an official and agree on how to document the flight, which seems quite reasonable and obvious to me.

      So I guess you're right: the folks at QinetiQ probably do not care about "official" world records. They just want publicity, and sell stuff.

      Or maybe there are some unmentioned important details.

    • by Perf (14203)
      Radar signature isn't very important if telemetry is being transmitted. Two things that would help is burst transmission and a narrow transmit beam.
      • *nodding* sure thing. If I were the Systems Engineer for the project, I'd have it only spit a stream of data at my satellite when I asked it to. In the meantime though it's not a very effective surveillance device if you can see it on radar easily and arrange a small "accident" for it..
    • Unless I'm completely mistaken, this plane being constructed with so much carbon fiber, wouldn't it have a very small (perhaps non-existent) radar signature?

      I think you might be completely mistaken. ;)

      "Dielectric composites are relatively transparent to radar, whereas electrically conductive materials such as metals and carbon fibers reflect electromagnetic energy incident on the material's surface."

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stealth_technology [wikipedia.org]

    • by evilviper (135110)

      Unless I'm completely mistaken, this plane being constructed with so much carbon fiber, wouldn't it have a very small (perhaps non-existent) radar signature?

      It may be structurally carbon-fiber, but those solar panels covering the entire body, and all the batteries and motors certainly aren't.

      But both are besides the point. Once you've scaled a plane down to smaller than common types of birds, it's effectively invisible anyhow, with the enemy recon plane being indistinguishable from wild-life.

      • by mpe (36238)
        But both are besides the point. Once you've scaled a plane down to smaller than common types of birds, it's effectively invisible anyhow, with the enemy recon plane being indistinguishable from wild-life.

        So long as you don't do anything stupid like try to fly it faster than any bird or transmit RF signals. Also the RCS of an object is not a function of size...
      • by hurfy (735314)

        I don't know about the birds in your area but the ones around here are a bit smaller than 18 meters....

        Invariably these things are really slow. Radar? Perhaps one should just look up to find it instead. (i did assume upto 18 meters doesn't actually mean 1 meter!)

        This isn't the toy Rc plane you buy for 19.95 and flies for 3 minutes ya know ;)

  • by an00bis (667089) on Sunday August 24, 2008 @09:53PM (#24731807)
    an ultra-lightweight carbon-fiber aircraft that weighs less than 70lbs and is designed to launch by hand

    i never want to meet the man who launches this aircraft by hand

  • by Goldenhawk (242867) on Sunday August 24, 2008 @09:59PM (#24731853) Homepage

    I think the claim to have beaten the Global Hawk by 2x is a bit misleading - it implies a doubling of existing capabilities. In fact, it only UNOFFICIALLY doubles an OFFICIAL record, which itself is not the longest flight recorded by any means. In 1989 a Boeing UAV named Condor flew over 58 hours, and had a design endurance of 80 hours. Okay, they never claimed it as an official record, but it was still a valid flight, just like this was.

    Here's an interesting video:
    http://video.aol.com/video-detail/boeing-condor-uav/4285692709 [aol.com]

    And some facts:
    http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/factsheets/factsheet.asp?id=7988 [af.mil]

    Granted, the Zephyr is theoretically limited only by the service life of its electrical components - it could stay up until something broke or wore out. But please, let's use real facts here.

  • 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 evanbd (210358)
      UAVs still have pilots. Pilot fatigue may be the limiting factor... iirc, that's how their previous demo flight (54 hours) ended. Since it's an R&D article, my guess is that time was long enough to accomplish the flight goals, and they wanted it back in the hangar to keep working on it. There are probably other reasons, but I would guess those are both significant ones.
  • I'm surprised it wasn't tried nearer the summer solstice, around the 3rd week of June, for the longest daylight.
    • If they are doing a proof of concept flight here then it would be a bit pointless to schedule around the summer solstice, securing the most ideal conditions possible. Customers and other interested parties are not interested in what the system can do under ideal conditions, but under realistic conditions. They could have taken it up to the arctic regions to ensure constant daylight but that would not give an accurate indication on how it would behave in a typical environment.

  • But... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by GameGod0 (680382)
    This would be cool if the end application wasn't to kill people more effectively.
  • Summary Error (Score:2, Informative)

    Anyone who writes that the Global Hawk is the size of a fighter has never seen one in person. The damn thing is HUGE. The wingspan is even greater than that of a U-2. It's an awesome plane with some serious potential.

    • by hurfy (735314)

      Not only is the Global Hawk huge, this thing apparently IS the size of a fighter (or BIGGER!) with 'upto' 18 meter wingspan. No idea why 'upto' is needed, maybe they lost their tape measure.

  • 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 sstair (538045)
    Anyone else thinking "plane of the ecliptic" when you read the headline?
  • Information Week [informationweek.com] has the story as well, with more details:

    "The Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona was an appropriate setting for Zephyr's world beating flight as many landmark aviation developments have taken place there in recent years," Simon Bennett, managing director of QinetiQ's Applied Technologies business, said in an announcement. "In addition to setting a new unofficial record, the trial is a step towards the delivery of Zephyr's capability for joint, real-time, battlefield persistent surveillance an

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