The Zephyr plane is a project of QinetiQ, which was spun out of the UK Government’s Defence Evaluation and Research Agency.
The University’s Centre for Advanced Electrical Drives tackled the challenge of designing a motor that would be highly efficient. Professor Barrie Mecrow, head of the Centre, says: “Every watt of lost energy matters and so we had to develop new ideas to produce one of the lowest loss motors ever built.”
At the same time the motor needed to be extremely light. Amazingly, the Zephyr weighs just 53kg even though it has a motor and a wingspan of 22.5 metres.
The Zephyr smashed previous endurance records and completed two weeks of non-stop flight powered only by energy from the sun.
On the back of the Zephyr project, Newcastle University is now also involved in work on the ‘SolarEagle’, a plane that will be able to stay airborne for as long as five years. The project is jointly funded by Boeing and the US Government.
Professor Mecrow says: “We started with one project in the UK and this has led to another project in the USA. Our involvement is a testament to the expertise that we have here at Newcastle University and it’s a demonstration of the on-going and rewarding nature of collaboration between the University and industry.”