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'Eternal' Solar Plane Stays Two Weeks Aloft

timothy posted more than 3 years ago | from the for-small-values-of-eternity dept.

Transportation 37

An anonymous reader writes "The BBC has a story on the confirmation of the record breaking flight of Qinetiq's Zephyr UAV: 'The UK-built solar-powered Zephyr aeroplane has been confirmed as a record-breaker following its non-stop two-week flight earlier this year. The world governing body for air sports records, the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI), gave Zephyr three records including longest time aloft. Built by defense technology company Qinetiq, the craft completed its two-week flight in the US in July. The company sees applications in surveillance and communications. The July feat led to Zephyr being dubbed the "eternal plane."' YouTube has some footage of the Zephyr in action."

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first Xmas post (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34664922)

Merry Xmas, /.! XD

Re:first Xmas post (2)

sakdoctor (1087155) | more than 3 years ago | (#34664934)

Well done. However you're the only person on slashdot today.

Re:first Xmas post (1)

houghi (78078) | more than 3 years ago | (#34665332)

Indeed, the rest is busy consuming as required and suddenly is also nice to people they ignore the rest of the year.

Re:first Xmas post (1)

dangitman (862676) | more than 3 years ago | (#34664938)

Wouldn't the first Xmas post have been approximately 12 days ago?

Re:first Xmas post (2)

JustOK (667959) | more than 3 years ago | (#34664968)

the 12 days of Christmas start on Dec 25th.

Chapter 1 (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34664936)

September 16, 1991. Today it finally began! After all these years of talking and nothing but talking we have finally taken our first action. We are at war with the System, and it is no longer a war of words.

I cannot sleep, so I will try writing down some of the thoughts which are flying through my head.

It is not safe to talk here. The walls are quite thin, and the neighbors might wonder at a latenight conference. Besides, George and Katherine are already asleep. Only Henry and I are still awake, and he’s just staring at the ceiling.

I am really uptight. l am so jittery I can barely sit still. And I’m exhausted. I’ve been up since 5:30 this morning, when George phoned to warn that the arrests had begun, and it’s after midnight now. I’ve been keyed up and on the move all day.

But at the same time I’m exhilarated. We have finally acted! How long we will be able to continue defying the System, no one knows. Maybe it will all end tomorrow, but we must not think about that. Now that we have begun, we must continue with the plan we have been developing so carefully ever since the Gun Raids two years ago.

What a blow that was to us! And how it shamed us! All that brave talk by patriots, "The government will never take my guns away," and then nothing but meek submission when it happened.

On the other hand, maybe we should be heartened by the fact that there were still so many of us who had guns then, nearly 18 months after the Cohen Act had outlawed all private ownership of firearms in the United States. It was only because so many of us defied the law and hid our weapons instead of turning them in that the government wasn’t able to act more harshly against us after the Gun Raids.

I’ll never forget that terrible day: November 9, 1989. They knocked on my door at five in the morning. I was completely unsuspecting as I got up to see who it was.

Read more... [avrtech.com]

Free Hat! (1)

MrQuacker (1938262) | more than 3 years ago | (#34665004)

Now I have yet another excuse for why I never remove my sombrero.

Also see: Vulture (5, Interesting)

CrazySailor (20688) | more than 3 years ago | (#34665020)

While Qinetiq has managed two weeks, DARPA [darpa.mil] is working on a five-year lifespan for its vehicles through the VULTURE [darpa.mil] program.
Additional specs: 450 kg payload, 5kW payload power and flight in the 60k ft region.

Re:Also see: Vulture (2)

Dolphinzilla (199489) | more than 3 years ago | (#34665040)

The LEMV is way more impressive - it must stay up for a minimum of 21 days and carry a minimum of 2500 lbs and generate at least 16 KW of power - the Zephyr is a nice technology demonstration but has a long way to go to be actually useful - and BTW the LEMV airship is also built by a British company

Re:Also see: Vulture (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34668964)

The Zephyr appears to be a more useful tool for the purposes suggested. The LEMV at 250 ft long would be a much easier and more expensive target to hit even at 60,000 ft

Record time aloft? (1, Interesting)

rossdee (243626) | more than 3 years ago | (#34665038)

Not even close. What about "Five Weeks in a Balloon"?

And there have been astronauts and cosmonauts on Mir and ISS for 6 months at a time...

Re:Record time aloft? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34665104)

You don't get it. It's all about a concept called "General Relativity".

Re:Record time aloft? (3, Interesting)

oodaloop (1229816) | more than 3 years ago | (#34665108)

I think there being air around you would be a requirement for "staying aloft." Staying in orbit isn't that hard.

Re:Record time aloft? (4, Funny)

Urkki (668283) | more than 3 years ago | (#34665112)

Not even close. What about "Five Weeks in a Balloon"?

And there have been astronauts and cosmonauts on Mir and ISS for 6 months at a time...

I think they're referring to heavier-than-air atmospheric flying machines here. And if you were just trying to be funny, it didn't work...

But if we accept any flying contraption, then the Moon has been flying for about 4 billion years already. Those clever Swiss, they sure know how to make cheese that works like a clockwork!

Re:Record time aloft? (1)

Kozz (7764) | more than 3 years ago | (#34665732)

Those clever Swiss, they sure know how to make cheese that works like a clockwork!

And yet, ironically, I hear that too much Swiss Cheese will prevent a Swiss Movement.

The Record is for UAVs only (4, Interesting)

jspoon (585173) | more than 3 years ago | (#34665232)

This isn't even close to the manned aircraft record. In the 50s some nuts kept a Cessna 172 flying for more than 2 months. When the generator gave out they hoisted up a small wind generator, taped it to a struct, and ran the power in through the cigarette lighter. Now that's what I call a record!

Re:The Record is for UAVs only (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34665308)

They needed to refuel every few hours though. They did that by flying alongside a car racing down the runway.

Re:The Record is for UAVs only (3, Informative)

Urkki (668283) | more than 3 years ago | (#34666096)

This isn't even close to the manned aircraft record. In the 50s some nuts kept a Cessna 172 flying for more than 2 months. When the generator gave out they hoisted up a small wind generator, taped it to a struct, and ran the power in through the cigarette lighter. Now that's what I call a record!

I was so sure you were just joking, but it's real [wikipedia.org] , and honestly, compared to today's "hoist a camcorder up in a balloon or RC plane" stunts... Well, there's no comparison :-)

Nope; unrefuelled (1)

fnj (64210) | more than 3 years ago | (#34666272)

Wrong. It's not a record for UAV's only; it's a record for unrefuelled flight in a powered vehicle, no matter whether manned or not, and no matter whether heavier than air or lighter than air.

Re:Nope; unrefuelled (1)

countertrolling (1585477) | more than 3 years ago | (#34668894)

It wasn't unrefueled. The batteries were topped off every day.

Re:Record time aloft? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34667732)

There's still one type of flying that hasn't been done yet. And I think it could go for some pretty big endurance records.

I think it'd be neat to fly an aircraft at lower altitude, but have it take advantage of a kite (either a tractor or a gyro hooked to generator) on a tether up in the jetstream. If there's enough windshear across that altitude difference, you'd have a lot more power available than any solar flier.

Yeah, the idea of a wind-powered aircraft sounds impossible. But a study back in the 1970's said it was feasable. [dtic.mil] They just lacked the cheap and lightweight automated control systems back then which would make such a system reasonable. And such a system would require close to constant attention in order to make it work.

I'm just wondering why nobody's tried it yet. It would be a bit more interesting and challenging from an engineering standpoint. Is it the patent? [energykitesystems.net]

For finite values of "eternal". (1)

sethstorm (512897) | more than 3 years ago | (#34665088)

The irony abounds, even if they could go longer.

Re:For finite values of "eternal". (1)

Brannoncyll (894648) | more than 3 years ago | (#34666020)

Yeah, someone needs to put a !eternal tag on this story.

Now don't you all go all goey on this announcement (1)

Ancient_Hacker (751168) | more than 3 years ago | (#34665126)

Now let's not go overboard here. The basic laws of Physics indicate that any "solar powered plane" is going to be a very iffy thing. You can only get 150 watts per square meter of wing surface, that's when the sun is shining and at right angles to the sun. So you're talking about a very slow and very underpowered airplane, with like at best some pitiful and hazardous climb rate.

No way it could ever be certificated for carrying humans.

Re:Now don't you all go all goey on this announcem (1)

the_other_chewey (1119125) | more than 3 years ago | (#34665148)

No way it could ever be certificated for carrying humans.

Oh, damn. You should tell that to the people working on the Solar Impulse [wikipedia.org] .

They'll be glad for all the work they wont have to do.

Also, they can seek treatment for the mass hallucination of
the 24h+ flight last July.

We're still talking low power and relatively slow, and you are
right that this will probably never be a way to power normal
travel - but "it" (meaning a purely solar powered heavier-than-air
aircraft) already has carried humans.

Re:Now don't you all go all goey on this announcem (1)

jo_ham (604554) | more than 3 years ago | (#34665162)

No one is talking about human certification - the article and the designers specifically mention it has been designed for small payloads, communications and science duties, not for passenger flight.

Reading the article, or even the TFS where this is stated explicitly would be useful.

Re:Now don't you all go all goey on this announcem (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 3 years ago | (#34665652)

On the other hand, a solar-assisted, solar-charged plane might be a really good idea, if these electric airplanes ever become viable. Batteries still suck.

The next step (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34665338)

Is to give lots of money to SENS so we can start working on eternal humans. Well, more eternal than two weeks, please!

British built (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34665390)

Defence contractor makes a high-tech unmanned spyplane using a cutting edge "5 blokes in t-shirts" launch system, truly it makes one proud to be British.

If you were wondering... (1)

martyb (196687) | more than 3 years ago | (#34665728)

I read the linked article and wondered why they stopped at 14 days. Still not certain, but it appears they made a decision to do so, instead of some malfunction or loss of elevation, according to their press release [qinetiq.com] :

QinetiQ will today bring Zephyr, its solar powered high-altitude long endurance (HALE) Unmanned Air System (UAS) back to earth after two weeks in the air - smashing a number of long-standing official and unofficial world records.

Zephyr was launched on 09 July and is currently still flying above the US Army's Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona. Today Zephyr will have been aloft for 14 nights continuously, achieving the objective of the trial and setting a number of performance and altitude records. At this point QinetiQ's Zephyr team in Yuma will bring the aircraft back to earth.

Does anyone have further details? Were they just tired, met the design/test objectives, and wanted to process all of that? I'd think if it were "eternal", it could have just been left there flying and would still be up there today. My *guess* is that it may be unmanned, but not entirely autonomous, so it required people on-site to monitor and control it.

Re:If you were wondering... (2)

garymortimer (1882326) | more than 3 years ago | (#34665922)

No its not entirely autonomous, all the pilots hold ATPL licences and are involved in flying other platforms. It met its design criteria and will fly again in the new year for longer. Type in Zephyr at http://www.suasnews.com/ [suasnews.com] and you will find a video of the take off and landing, sorry I can't seem to paste in a link here. I believe it had enough power left to fly for several weeks more.

Not a record aloft, unless for solar power (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34665842)

These guys stayed aloft over 64 days in a Cessna 172... In 1959!

http://m.aopa.org/aircraft/articles/2010/101209world_endurance_flying_record.html

Not just solar; unrefuelled (2)

fnj (64210) | more than 3 years ago | (#34666250)

Much more significant than that. It's a record for unrefuelled flight, regardless of what the source of power is.

Don't click the link! (1)

nadamucho (1063238) | more than 3 years ago | (#34666408)

The video is two weeks long!!!

Toy (1)

jklovanc (1603149) | more than 3 years ago | (#34667944)

The plane did not have any of the following:
1. A payload adding extra weight and extra energy to keep aloft.
2. Sensors to gather data. These sensors would require power to run decreasing the amount of energy going into the battery.
3. Transmitters to sends data to the ground. Same energy drain as above.

With all that extra energy drain will the plane stay up over night.

I also shake my head when I see that the test is done in Summer when the days are the longest and the nights are the shortest. This way one has the longest charge time and the shortest discharge time. Try the same thing in winter when the charge time is shorter and the discharge time is longer and the plane may not stay aloft through the night. A UAV that can be used only part of the year is not very viable.

Without an energy draining payload flown in winter all they managed to do was demonstrate a very expensive RC toy not a viable surveillance UAV.

Only two weeks? (1)

dominique_cimafranca (978645) | more than 3 years ago | (#34668738)

Eternity ain't what it used to be.
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