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Photos: Zephyr solar plane

It's skinny, it's solar-powered, and it can hang in the clouds for a good long ride.

Qinetiq Zephyr
Qinetiq's solar-powered Zephyr takes flight. Qinetiq

It looks like a giant version of the $2 styrofoam airplane toys you buy at the hobby shop, put together in two minutes, and render utterly useless after just a pair of overzealous throws. But this bird can soar.

So says its maker, the British defense contractor Qinetiq, which is crowing about the 54-hour flight turned in by its Zephyr High Altitude Long Endurance flyer. That's a record and then some for an unmanned aircraft, the company says, though it acknowledges the official word will still have to be delivered by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale.

And did we mention that it's solar-powered? High endurance and green-tech cred--not bad at all for a contraption with all the design flair of a Q-tip lashed to a couple of broken rulers.

The two-day test flight (and a second, shorter flight) of the UAV were the first time all the particular components--solar arrays, lithium-sulphur batteries, a "bespoke autopilot" and more--had flown together, Qinetiq says. The U.K.'s Ministry of Defence ponied up the funds for the New Mexico trials.

For more details and more pictures, see "Photos: Solar-powered UAV flies and flies."