Qinetiq Zephyr

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Airbus Zephyr
Airbus Zephyr Artists Impression.jpg
An artist's impression of the UAV
Role High altitude long endurance unmanned aircraft
National origin United Kingdom
Design group initially Qinetiq, now Airbus Defence and Space

The Airbus Zephyr is a series of lightweight solar-powered UAV originally designed and built in 2003 by the British company, QinetiQ.[1] The development of the aircraft is ongoing and currently part of the Airbus High Altitude Pseudo-Satellite (HAPS) programme.[2][3]


The Zephyr 7 holds the official endurance record for an unrefuelled, unmanned aerial vehicle with its flight from 9 July to 23 July 2010, lasting 336 hours, 22 minutes and 8 seconds. It could also remain airborne for months thanks to its solar cells and rechargeable batteries.[4][5][6] Record claims have been verified by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) for both duration[5] and altitude, at 21,562 meters. It more than doubled the previous endurance record for unmanned flight.[7][8][9]

In a 2008 demonstration for the US military, a smaller-scale version of the Zephyr (Zephyr 6) performed beyond the official world record for the longest-duration unmanned flight, however its 82-hour flight at an altitude of 61,000 ft (19,000 m) did not set an official record because FAI officials were not involved in the flight.[10]

The Zephyr system was sold to EADS Astrium (now Airbus Defence and Space) in March 2013 where it was successfully re-flown as part of the High Altitude Pseudo-Satellite (HAPS) programme [2] In 2014 it flew for 11 days in winter,[11] and later near civilian airspace.[12]


It is of carbon-fibre construction, and uses sunlight to charge a lithium-sulphur battery during the day, which powers the aircraft at night. The aircraft has been designed for use in observation and communications relay.[13]

The vehicle can circle over a particular area for extended periods with particular emphasis on its potential civil and military applications as an Earth observation and communications platform. During the day, Zephyr uses its state-of-the-art solar cells spread across its wings to recharge high-power lithium-sulphur batteries and drive two propellers. At night, the energy stored in the batteries is sufficient to maintain Zephyr in the sky. The lithium sulphur batteries are supplied by Sion, and the first version had a battery capacity of 3kWh.[14][15]

Zephyr 7 was bigger and required five individuals to launch, as opposed to three previously.[16] Zephyr 8 is now under development and will be bigger still, with a 28-metre wingspan.

The 53 kg[17] Zephyr is capable of a maximum altitude between 65,000 and 70,000 feet [18]


United Kingdom[edit]

In November 2015, in the House of Commons, British prime minister David Cameron laid out plans during the Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015, to further enhance Great Britain's intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISTAR) capacity. In the speech, he stated that the UK was to field a 'British-designed unmanned aircraft that will fly at the edge of the earth's atmosphere and allow us to monitor our adversaries for weeks on end, providing critical intelligence for our armed forces." A purchase of two Zephyr-8's was reported in February 2016.[19] The British Ministry of Defence later confirmed the purchase of a third Zephyr 8 platform.

The Zephyr 8 will have roughly 24 kg of batteries and a 5 kg payload,[19] and be 30 percent lighter and carry 50 percent more batteries than the Zephyr 7.[20] In August 2016, the MOD confirmed the purchase of a third Zephyr.[21]

In addition to Zephyr 8, otherwise known as Zephyr S, full-scale flight testing is scheduled for a twin-tailed Zephyr T variant in 2018 aimed at providing a maritime surveillance and communications capability.[22]

Specifications (Zephyr 7)[edit]

Data from[citation needed]

General characteristics

  • Crew: 0
  • Capacity: 2.5 kg (5.5 lb) payload
  • Wingspan: 73 ft 10 in (22.50 m)
  • Gross weight: 117 lb (53 kg)
  • Powerplant: 2 × Newcastle University custom permanent-magnet synchronous motor , 0.60 hp (0.45 kW) each


  • Cruise speed: 30 kn (35 mph; 56 km/h)
  • Service ceiling: 70,000 ft (21,000 m)

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Amos, Jonathan (24 June 2003). "Strato-plane looks forward". BBC News. Retrieved 31 March 2014. British engineers are preparing to push the limits of aeroplane technology 
  2. ^ a b "First flight of Astrium's Zephyr solar HAPS". Airbus Group. Retrieved 31 March 2014. 
  3. ^ "United Kingdom Ministry of Defence places order for two solar-powered Airbus Zephyr 8s". Airbus Group. 
  4. ^ Amos, Jonathan (23 July 2010). "'Eternal plane' returns to Earth". BBC News. Retrieved 2010-07-23. touched down at 1504 BST ... on Friday ... took off ... at 1440 BST (0640 local time) on Friday, 9 July 
  5. ^ a b "FAI Record ID No. 16052". Fédération Aéronautique Internationale. Retrieved 4 December 2012. 
  6. ^ "UK drones to spy from the stratosphere | The Times". The Times. Retrieved 4 February 2016. 
  7. ^ Hanlon, Mike (23 July 2010). "QinetiQ Zephyr solar powered unmanned aircraft to land after 14 days aloft". GizMag. Retrieved 4 December 2012. 
  8. ^ Amos, Jonathan (17 July 2010). "Zephyr solar plane flies 7 days non-stop". BBC News. Retrieved 17 July 2010. 
  9. ^ Amos, Jonathan (2010-07-14). "Zephyr solar plane set for record endurance flight". BBC News. Retrieved 14 July 2010. 
  10. ^ Amos, Jonathan (24 August 2008). "Solar plane makes record flight". BBC News. Retrieved 25 August 2008. 
  11. ^ Tovey, Alan (31 August 2014). "Fly 11 days non-stop? Now that's long-haul". Daily Telegraph. 
  12. ^ Bellamy, Woodrow III. "Airbus Zephyr Proves Value For Civil Operations in Middle East" Aviation Today, 1 October 2014. Accessed: 2 October 2014.
  13. ^ QinetiQ Group (14 Sep 2008). "Zephyr - QinetiQ High-Altitude Long-Endurance (HALE) Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAVs)". Retrieved 2008-08-25. 
  14. ^ QinetiQ Group (16 July 2010). "QinetiQ's Zephyr solar powered unmanned aircraft soars to new world records". Retrieved 2010-08-17. 
  15. ^ Bush, Steve (28 September 2007). "Inside Qinetiq's Zephyr solar powered plane". Electronics weekly. Retrieved 4 December 2012. 
  16. ^ Goodier, Rob (7 July 2010). "Solar Plane Aims for New Record: 3 Months Aloft Without a Pilot or Fuel". Popular mechanics. Retrieved 4 December 2012. 
  17. ^ "Wing-to-tail guide to Zephyr, the 'eternal' plane". BBC News. 23 July 2010. 
  18. ^ http://www.defensenews.com/story/defense/air-space/isr/2016/02/17/british-mod-acquires-solar-powered-zephyr-uav/80513364/
  19. ^ a b " MoD to buy high-flying solar planes" Feb 2016
  20. ^ Ministry of Defence places order for two solar-powered Airbus Zephyr 8s. Feb 2016
  21. ^ "MOD buys third record-breaking UAV". UK MOD. 17 August 2016. Retrieved 17 August 2016. 
  22. ^ "Farnborough 2016: Airbus releases Zephyr T details, outlines CONOPS for systems". Janes. 14 July 2016. Retrieved 31 August 2016. 

External links[edit]