QinetiQ’s Zephyr High-Altitude Long-Endurance unmanned aerial system (HALE UAS) programme recently resumed flight testing and payload evaluations in Yuma, Arizona, when a joint US/UK Zephyr team undertook the first operation of the system with a US flight crew.
This test sequence, jointly sponsored by the British Ministry of Defence and the US Pentagon, focused on evaluating potential payloads as well as advancing the concept of operations (“conops”) for operating long endurance persistent aircraft in excess of five days.
The Zephyr concept is designed to offer solar-powered, persistent coverage with continuous mission durations of up to three months at a revolutionary low-cost per flight hour. Capable of carrying a variety of payloads, the applications of the system include wide area surveillance, communications relay, specific target monitoring, anti-piracy efforts, route monitoring, counter-IED, border security, and local area security.
An ultra-lightweight carbon-fibre aircraft, Zephyr weighing less than 100 pounds with a wingspan of up to 75 feet. Launched by hand, Zephyr is solar powered during the day using United Solar Ovonic amorphous silicon arrays no thicker than sheets of paper that cover the aircraft’s wings. At night it is powered by lithium-sulphur batteries supplied by the SION Power Corporation that are recharged during the day using solar power.
The US Army’s Yuma proving ground in Arizona was the site of Zephyr’s world-beating three and a half day flight in July last year – the fourth of a series of flight trials that have been flown in the US since 2005.
This was the first deliverable following a new enabling contract awarded earlier this year to QinetiQ North America that runs until May 2014 and gives access to up to $44.8 million for operational training in the US, accelerated development, in-theatre evaluation and possible transition to production of Zephyr and its associated ground station.
The $44.8 million cost-plus-fixed-fee enabling contract was competitively procured via a Broad Agency Announcement led by the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division, Lakehurst, NJ. The contract award marks the second phase of a Joint Capability Technology Demonstration (JCTD) programme jointly sponsored by the OSD DDRE and the United Kingdom MOD.