Airbus Zephyr S breaks record of longest flight ever
Airbus Defense & Space announced the successful maiden flight of their Zephyr S HAPS. The “High Altitude Pseudo-Satellite” landed 25 days, 23 hours and 57 minutes after takeoff on July 11, 2018, in Arizona.
The flight still has to be approved as a new world record. The previous record was also held by a Zephyr (a prototype), which achieved a 14-day and 21 minutes flight in 2010. At the time, the program was still carried by the British defense company QinetiQ (acquired by Airbus in 2013).
The Zephyr S is a high altitude pseudo-satellite (HAPS) powered exclusively by solar energy thanks to the panels covering the surface of its 25 meters of wingspan. Batteries contain the energy accumulated during a day to allow the drone to also fly at night. Able to fly at around 21 kilometers of altitude, it is the “first unmanned aircraft of its kind to fly in the stratosphere”, according to Airbus. Its aim is to offer the endurance of a satellite while being mobile like a drone. It was developed for surveillance and reconnaissance missions, as well as providing communications. Its technology is planned for both civilian and military markets.
Following flights will be held by the end of 2018, at Airbus new test site in Wyndham, Australia.
The production version of the aircraft is the first to come out of Airbus Farnborough assembly line in the United Kingdom. The flight was supported by the UK government. The British minister of Defense is set out to be the launch customer of the Zephyr, having three aircraft on order.
Airbus is also developing a new version, named Zephyr T. Wider and heavier, it would be able to carry a radar, a lidar (light detection and ranging) and SIGINT detection devices.
The United Kingdom, through BAE Systems and Prismatic, is developing another aircraft of this type, named PHASA-35. Its flight tests should begin in 2019. As for Boeing, a similar project, named SolarEagle, was cancelled in 2012. The U.S. plane maker is now reviving it by filing a new design patent by Phantom Works division. However, it seems that for now, Airbus took the lead on the market.
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