Carbon Fibre Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Set to Smash Its Own Endurance Record

Employing carbon fibre airframe components manufactured by Leafield-based Formtech Composites, QinetiQ's unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) project, "Zephyr", is expected to go into the record books by quadrupling its own previous record of 82 hours.

Zephyr operates within the High Altitude, Long Endurance (HALE) sector and was successfully launched on July 9th at the US Army Yuma proving ground in Arizona and completed a flight time, yet to be officially confirmed by the FAI, of 14 days (336 hours).

This 22.5m wingspan UAV is little more than 50kg and launched by hand. It operates by day on solar power, generated by amorphous silicon arrays and by night it is powered by rechargeable lithium-sulphur batteries that are recharged during the day by the solar energy gathered.

Zephyr and QinetiQ provided Formtech Composites a unique entrance into the UAV sector of aerospace and, providing a complete solution from design receipt through to production, the team worked exclusively in carbon fibre from QinetiQ's original designs, the components being produced to specification and adapted as new innovations were delivered.

"We can offer our clients a one to one drawing board to runway solution by maintaining a high level of communication and contact throughout the process," says Mark Preston, managing director of Formtech Composites, "and the results speak for themselves; in just two years of business our expertise has grown to a level where we are able to supply such a high end client as QinetiQ."

Stuart Banyard, production manager at Formtech Composites, agrees that the key to the Zephyr project was communication: "With regular meetings and our ability to fast track client adaptations throughout the development stages, we were able to keep to accurate deadlines and strict budget parameters. We are absolutely delighted at the high level of results for Zephyr and wish to pass our congratulations to all the HALE team at QinetiQ".

Zephyr offers a real long term solution with its zero emissions and long range ability. Defence solutions include surveillance, communications relay and mapping and civil solutions such as border control, crop and forestry fire monitoring and fisheries protection.

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