A high-flying drone sets an endurance record

Aug 09, 2018

Dawn’s early light

ON AUGUST 6th a flimsy-looking pilotless aircraft, the Zephyr S, came slowly in to land at an undisclosed location in Arizona, and was caught by a group of people jogging along beside it. The reception committee was needed because the craft, which weighs less than 75kg, lacks an undercarriage—or, indeed, anything else that would add unnecessary weight. The touchdown meant the Zephyr S had set a new flight-endurance record for a drone, of 25 days, 23 hours and 57 minutes. The point of doing so was to show that solar-powered aircraft of this sort can compete with satellites in the markets for Earth observation and telecommunications. This has led some people to dub them “pseudo-satellites”. The idea is that eventually they will stay aloft for months.

The previous endurance record for drones, of just over 14 days, was set in 2010 by the Zephyr 7, an earlier version of this aircraft. The Zephyr 7 was developed by QinetiQ, a British defence...

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