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Average Joe
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I thought this was really interesting.
http://www.newscientist.com/blog/technology/2007/09/solar-flyer-en-route-to-everlasting.html

[h3] Solar plane en route to everlasting flight [/h3]

A solar-powered plane has beaten the record for the longest uncrewed flight, UK defence research company QinetiQ claims. In a secretive weekend mission, their craft Zephyr took off from a US military base in New Mexico and landed 54 hours later.

The solar craft seems to have taken the next hop towards everlasting flight a concept examined in this FREE feature. It was able to charge it batteries enough during the day to fly through two nights.

The video below shows Zephyr's hand-launched lift-off. It would be interesting to see it land catching something that size could be tricky!



Zephyr's 54hrs would trump the record currently held by US firm Northrop Grumman's jet-powered RQ-4A Global Hawk widely used by US forces in Iraq and Afganistan. A Global Hawk flew for 30 hours, 24 minutes in 2001.

Unfortunately, QinetiQ's test was kept secret even from the official record keepers, the International Aeronautics Federation. So Zephyr's place in the history books is not assured yet.

Zephyr is an 18-metre carbon-fibre wing, with two propellers and a lightweight tail attached. Paper-thin solar panels cover its surface. They power the props and charge the lithium-sulphur batteries that carried it through two successive nights.

NASA's own endurance solar craft, Helios, came to a messy end in 2003. The huge 130m flexible flying wing with 14 propellers broke up due to turbulence over the Pacific Ocean.
 
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