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The Military Transportation Science Technology

Zephyr Solar Plane Tops 7 Days Aloft 51

Posted by timothy
from the ok-but-jetfuel-for-me-yet dept.
chichilalescu writes "The UK-built Zephyr solar-powered plane has smashed the endurance record for an unmanned aerial vehicle. The craft took off from the US Army's Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona at 1440 BST (0640 local time) last Friday and is still in the air. Maybe we can attach some netbooks, and extend the Internet to the clouds."
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Zephyr Solar Plane Tops 7 Days Aloft

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  • odd asymmetry (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Hooya (518216)

    why is one wing shaped differently than the other, i wonder..

    • by Fumus (1258966)

      I'm rather sure that's just an illusion because of the angle at which the photos were taken.

      • Indeed, the next photo down, had the GP bothered to look, shows the wings quite symmetrical, taking in to account that it's shot at an angle. The other is harder to compensate for.

    • by BradyB (52090)

      why is one wing shaped differently than the other, i wonder..

      You're right, there is a noticeable extra piece of wing on the right (looking from the rear)

      • Re:odd asymmetry (Score:4, Informative)

        by MichaelSmith (789609) on Saturday July 17, 2010 @05:40AM (#32935790) Homepage Journal

        why is one wing shaped differently than the other, i wonder..

        You're right, there is a noticeable extra piece of wing on the right (looking from the rear)

        The left wing appears to have an extension on the wing tip with negative dihedral: it points down. The guy on the right appears to be holding the tip extension, perhaps because they are assembling the aircraft.

    • by Arterion (941661)

      I would guess that the weight of the craft isn't evenly balanced, because of the asymmetrical nature of some of the electrical equipment or some such. Thus, it needs differently shaped wings to compensate, as mechanical or more traditional propulsion mechanisms aren't viable given its limited energy availability.

      • I would guess that the weight of the craft isn't evenly balanced, because of the asymmetrical nature of some of the electrical equipment or some such. Thus, it needs differently shaped wings to compensate, as mechanical or more traditional propulsion mechanisms aren't viable given its limited energy availability.

        The second picture in the article gives a more symmetrical view.

    • by AikonMGB (1013995)

      Take another look at the two pictures in the article; looks pretty symmetrical to me. Both wingtips are raked, and also point down with negative dihedral.

      Aikon-

    • Are they pitching it as a Nascar chase plane?
    • why is one wing shaped differently than the other, i wonder..

      This plane is meant to fly a circular path around an area indefinately.

      Maybe the differential drag of the wings will make it fly a circular path naturally, and produce less drag overall than constantly moving the rudder or Ailerons to make a straight flying plane turn. Less drag means less energy required to keep it flying.

    • by dhammond (953711)

      It does appear to be somewhat asymmetrical, unless there's some kind of optical illusion going on (hi-res image available here: http://www.qinetiq.com/home/newsroom/news_releases_homepage/2010/3rd_quarter/zephyr_2010.Par.22482.File.tmp/Zephyr%202010%20launch.JPG [qinetiq.com])

      My guess: it appears to be made primary to hover over a particular area, so it spends a lot of its time circling, which could possibly be made more efficient with asymmetry.

  • Interesting and quite an achievement but how useful is it in 'real life' (ie. military use) when weather conditions may not be so ideal as they presumably are in arizona? Can it handle high winds and storms or will it fall apart?

    Also wont it present a fetching target for those 'unfriendlies' the military would be watching or does it fly too high?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Maddog Batty (112434)

      El reg has made some interesting points on this: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/07/16/zephyr_7_days/ [theregister.co.uk]
      The site and time of year chosen is about the most ideal conditions possible. Any real application would require a payload which would need to be carried and more critically powered which means more solar panels. I would guess that they would already be maxed out on the solar panel area though...

      • by ignavus (213578)

        You know, the Wright brothers airplane wasn't exactly a jumbo jet either...

        Just saying.

        And I hope you are not downloading music onto wax cylinders - they have made some improvements in the storage of music since Edison. It was a good first try, though.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by houghi (78078)

        I think it is more then logical that they would do it in the most ideal conditions possible. To me it is not even interesting. Remember that flight around the world in a balloon? Do you think they did not try to get the most ideal conditions?

        First you start to see what happens in the most ideal situation. Then you have some reference point for more realistic situations later on in the project.

    • Re:cool, but.. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Xtense (1075847) <`xtense' `at' `o2.pl'> on Saturday July 17, 2010 @05:31AM (#32935768) Homepage

      Remember these are just baby steps of solar powered flight. This in itself is quite an achievement, but there's still room for improvement. As solar panel technology gets better, so will the capabilities and usefulness of such projects in real life. However, i think just waiting for a better panel won't cut it - the rest can still be optimized, like internal circuitry, materials, the design and so on. That's why IMO it's important to keep making such prototypes. If (when?) we finally get better panels, we'll be all set with a proper aircraft architecture and, if we're lucky, it'll be able to sustain itself in every climate.

      That said, the military will probably never release the specs to the public, so meh ;) .

      • Physical limitations (Score:4, Informative)

        by mangu (126918) on Saturday July 17, 2010 @09:09AM (#32936352)

        As solar panel technology gets better, so will the capabilities and usefulness of such projects in real life

        The problem is that you are limited by the amount of sunlight that reaches the earth. Even with solar panel efficiency at 100% you would only have about one kilowatt/square meter.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Alastor187 (593341)
          There is certainly a limit to how much solar power can be collected. However, 1 kW/m^2 is a substantial amount of power, if we could get there. Take for example the high power electronics suites in UAVs. These electroncis require large amounts of power and therefore must be cooled accordingly. Now when the aircraft is running on the ground a unique cooling problem exists because only partial cooling capacity is available. This is further complicated by solar thermal loading on the ground which can excee
    • by Threni (635302)

      > Also wont it present a fetching target for those 'unfriendlies' the military would be watching or does it fly too high?

      If it's cheap, who cares? Low and fast will be ok.

      Now lets get out to Afghanistan and kill some kids! Whoop! Alright!

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by dbIII (701233)
      One thing that many forget is that aircraft fly faster than storms so can always be somewhere else unless they have fuel limitations. Also I don't think any aircraft can handle a tornado so the high winds question is one of those "it's not perfect so we should never use it" senseless arguments.
    • Loitering aircraft like this can have a lot of uses. A close cousin of my wife did a great deal of his graduate work on the use of unmanned aircraft for the purpose of fire spotting. The idea was to keep a small fleet of cheap, low maintenance, long-life aircraft over areas that experienced frequent forest fires in the summer months. The quicker you spot the blaze, the easier it is to fix, and a few cheap UAVs outfitted with sensors (the version they were working on actually didn't require any human inte

    • by Hairy1 (180056)

      Once an aircraft like this gets to operating altitude there is little weather it needs to deal with. There is more or less constant sunshine during the day. We are talking about 60,000 feet.

      For monitoring a large area it is ideal. The payload that it will need to carry should be minimal. Note that last week there was a 24 hr solar powered flight with a human pilot. That is a fair bit of weight; way more weight than some cameras needed to simply observe.

      If it were used in military context it would be far les

  • "Maybe we can attach some netbooks, and extend the internet to the clouds."

    Really? That's the best way to summarise record-breaking solar flight? A stupid, and basically illogical, pun?

    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by ultranova (717540)

      Yeah. We should attack routers for mesh routing, not netbooks.

      Seriously, with all the three-strike and censorship laws popping up lately like poisonous mushrooms after a rain, the future of the Internet lays in mesh routing: rather than connect to an ISP, your router sends the packet to neighbour's router, which sends it to the noughbouring building, and so on. And with the laws that try to make this illegal, such routing is best carried out by insectbots, which would have many other uses too (such as fight

      • Mesh routing is cool and all, but where do you connect your mesh to? Interconnecting the globe without any commercial or gouvermental entity involved is no easy task. Providing reasonable bandwidth across the ocean without using fiber is hard, if not almost impossible.
        • by ultranova (717540) on Saturday July 17, 2010 @09:08AM (#32936350)

          Mesh routing is cool and all, but where do you connect your mesh to?

          To local public communication infrastructure, such as fiber-optic cables; however, it becomes impossible to cut any single person's access away, since said person's packets can be routed through multiple routes even at the very beginning.

          Compare this to the road network: while we have highways and such, individuals connect to the network through a mesh of small roads, and can in fact cross the whole country through them if necessary.

          Interconnecting the globe without any commercial or gouvermental entity involved is no easy task. Providing reasonable bandwidth across the ocean without using fiber is hard, if not almost impossible.

          Naturally. I'm simply arguing against the current system, where your access can be cut off by either a commercial entity or the government. The whole point is to move from identifiable endpoints to a system where the mesh, as a whole, is an endpoint.

          Communication is far too important to let either the RIAA, Comcast, or their paid representatives to mess with it.

          • however, it becomes impossible to cut any single person's access away, since said person's packets can be routed through multiple routes even at the very beginning.

            In your scenario, the gouverment/commercial entity is evil enough to cut peoples network access. Thus, you have to assume that in doubt, they would simply cut the access at each endpoint where "infringing" traffic enters the public network, effectively cutting the whole mesh from the net.

            I've seen people fined for copyright infraction for operating an open WiFi router (which is basically a "one-hop mesh"), when they could prove they have been on vacation during the time of the infringement.

            • by ultranova (717540)

              In your scenario, the gouverment/commercial entity is evil enough to cut peoples network access. Thus, you have to assume that in doubt, they would simply cut the access at each endpoint where "infringing" traffic enters the public network, effectively cutting the whole mesh from the net.

              A government that cuts a whole city off the Net is not going to be a government for very long. Also, please understand that even if they do, the city is still connected to the larger Internet through the suburbs extending

    • by 3seas (184403)

      both can crash?

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by lemur3 (997863)

      "Maybe we can attach some netbooks, and extend the internet to the clouds."

      Really? That's the best way to summarise record-breaking solar flight? A stupid, and basically illogical, pun?

      timothy puts the PUN in Punishment

    • by chichilalescu (1647065) on Saturday July 17, 2010 @09:24AM (#32936418) Homepage Journal

      I submitted the story, and I made the pun. I thought it was funny...
      and in principle I think in the future aircraft of this kind could perform some functions that are currently performed by satelites.
      anyway, I don't know a lot about this stuff, so maybe it was a bad joke, sorry.

  • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Saturday July 17, 2010 @05:43AM (#32935796) Homepage Journal

    The current official world endurance record for a UAV is 30 hours, 24 minutes. This was set by the US robot Global Hawk. Zephyr itself has already recorded an 83-hour continuous flight but representatives from the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI) were not present to witness proceedings.

    However, they are at Yuma this time and so the latest flight will go down as an official world record provided the FAI is satisfied its rules have been followed.

    They had better hurry up and end the light otherwise the FAI guy might give up and go home.

    • Sounds perfect for commercial passenger flight. After holding people hostage in the air for a week, being hold up on the ground for another day won't seem as bad.

  • The applications! (Score:3, Informative)

    by arielCo (995647) on Saturday July 17, 2010 @08:29AM (#32936214)

    Its project manager, Jon Saltmarsh, said Zephyr would be brought down once it had flown non-stop for a fortnight.

    "Zephyr is basically the first 'eternal aircraft'," he told BBC News.

    Which makes for a decent observation plane, mostly for disaster-area surveillance (dunno military apps, though). QinetiQ seems to agree:

    Potential applications for Zephyr include earth observation and communications relay.

    I remember reading on ./ that the Nasa Pathfinder [wikipedia.org] concept is comparable to a very-low-orbit satellite for practical purposes, even advancing the possibilities in Martian exploration.

    • Qinetiq is the commercial r+d arm of the UK military. They don't just build stuff for the fun of it.

      A) their funding requires them to be hunting down sales and profit and B) they are the commercial spin off of the military (one of their biggest clients) so they sure as heck didn't spend years putting PhD level researchers on developing a solar flying wing just because they thought it would be a cool thing to do. They'll be expecting to make a profit out of this and for starters they'll be offering the US mi

  • and we can sleep soundly knowing that even if we all blast ourselves back to the stone-age, our enemy's cave-man descendants won't have it easy.
  • 5... 4... 3... 2... 1...

  • What if a plane like this could be used for routing internet or cell phone traffic?
  • Because these planes can stay up indefinitely and can fly over specific locations they offer an interesting way to "break" the monopolies posed by the Telephone and Cable companies over most of U.S. and presumably much of the rest of the world. The major problem with satellites is the ground-to-satellite distances and the delays that imposes on "real-world" applications such as telephone conversations or internet access. Low altitude (13-18km [42,000-60,000] ft) is above that at which most jet airplanes f

  • Heinlein wrote about stratospheric relay aircraft even before Clarke wrote about geosync relay sats.

It's not so hard to lift yourself by your bootstraps once you're off the ground. -- Daniel B. Luten

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