Zephyr: the new standard for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

QinetiQ Zephyr

Zephyr is a high altitude long endurance (HALE) unmanned air vehicle (UAV) that can support payloads for surveillance or communications. It therefore provides a cost effective and persistent capability to collect or disseminate high quality data across wide areas.

Zephyr is pushing the boundaries of unmanned flight – and in more ways than one. In July 2010 it secured a place in history by smashing the world record for the longest duration unmanned flight, flying for 14 days and 21 minutes and reaching an altitude of over 70,000 feet. This record promises to be the first of many because Zephyr has the potential for uninterrupted flights lasting several months.

Zephyr’s extraordinary in-flight endurance derives from several pioneering design developments:

  • Solar panels power the aircraft during the day and charge its lithium-sulphur batteries for night flying
  • A unique propeller design gives the aircraft a high power-to-weight ratio
  • The wing design maximises the use of thermal air currents to lift the aircraft to high altitudes
  • Ultra-lightweight carbon-fibre construction means it weighs around 30kg
  • A QinetiQ-developed bespoke autopilot navigates between waypoints, removing the need for permanent manual operation

Silent in flight, environmentally friendly and launched by hand with no complicated launching mechanisms, Zephyr is revolutionising the thinking behind UAV operations.