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QinetiQ's Zephyr breaks flight time record for unmanned aircraft

An unmanned aircraft stays in the air for more than three days.

The Zephyr aircraft flies purely by solar power. QinetiQ

After 16 days, the Olympics concluded with 43 world records being broken. However, there's now another record that's no less exciting.

QinetiQ claimed Sunday that its propeller-driven aircraft called Zephyr flew for 83 hours and 37 minutes nonstop, more than doubling the official world record set by Northrop Grumman's Global Hawk in 2001.

The Zephyr is much different from the Global Hawk, which is about the size of a fighter and requires a runway for taking off and landing.

Zephyr, on the other hand, is an ultra-lightweight carbon-fiber aircraft that weighs less than 70 pounds and is designed to launch by hand. The little aircraft flies on solar power generated by amorphous silicon arrays covering the aircraft's paper-thin wings. It's powered day and night by lithium sulfur batteries that are recharged during the day using solar power.

QinnetiQ claims that last year, Zephyr also managed to stay up in the air for 54 hours on another flight.

However, both the Zephyr's reported flight times didn't meet all criteria laid down by The World Air Sports Federation--the governing body for air sports and aeronautical world records--and will probably remain unofficial.

Nonetheless, Zephyr's impressive fight time opens up a lot of potential for the aircraft the fields of earth observation and communications relay.

(Via Associated Press)