Image: Solar plane
AP Photo/ QinetiQ HO
A solar-powered aircraft likely broke the world record for longest unmanned flight, sailing for 54 hours more than 50,000 feet (15,240 meters) above the New Mexico desert.
updated 9/10/2007 5:00:57 PM ET 2007-09-10T21:00:57

An unmanned solar-powered aircraft that soared for 54 hours more than 50,000 feet above New Mexico may hold the record for unmanned flight, defense research company QinetiQ announced Monday.

The record is currently 30 hours, 24 minutes in a flight on July 23, the company said.

QinetiQ's trapezoid-shaped, ultra-thin "Zephyr" plane may not hold onto the record because the flight at the White Sands Missile Range in the New Mexico desert was not witnessed by officials from the World Air Sports Federation, which keeps and certifies records, the company said.

Built from carbon fibers, the aircraft is 59 feet long and weighs about 66 pounds _ light enough to be launched, by hand, by a team of three. It uses paper-thin silicon panels to draw on the sun's power and stores the surplus in lithium-sulphur batteries, which power it through the night.

QinetiQ said Britain's Ministry of Defense had contributed several million pounds to the project, but the company declined to say how much it cost.

Zephyr could be used for surveillance and communications, the company said.

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