Zephyr S, Airbus’ High-Altitude-Pseudo-Satellite, has surpassed the current flight endurance record of an aircraft without refuelling of 14 days, 22 minutes and 8 seconds and is still flying.
The Zephyr aircraft departed for its maiden flight from Arizona, USA on 11th July 2018.
Airbus say this first flight of the Zephyr S aims to prove and demonstrate the aircraft capabilities, with the final endurance record to be confirmed on landing.
Airbus Defence and Space had earlier won an order from the UK for three solar-powered Zephyr high-altitude pseudo-satellite aircraft.
In November 2015, British prime minister David Cameron laid out plans during the 2015 Strategic Defence Review, to further enhance the UK’s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capacity.
In the speech given to parliament at the time, he stated that the UK was to field a “British designed unmanned aircraft that will fly at the edge of the earth’s atmosphere and allow us to monitor our adversaries for weeks on end, providing critical intelligence for our armed forces.”
Zephyr-8 is the latest version of a highly sophisticated series of ultra-lightweight UAVs, capable of flying up to 70,000ft – twice the altitude of a commercial airliner – for up to 45 days at a time. Referred to as a High Altitude Pseudo Satellite, it performs more like a satellite than a conventional UAV.
In 2017, then Defence Equipment and Support Chief Executive, Tony Douglas, said:
“Zephyr utilises a wide range of innovative technologies with the aim of delivering a world leading disruptive capability.
Purchasing a third airframe demonstrates how the MOD, through DE&S, can create a positive and collaborative partnership with industry, vital for both the UK economy and for our Armed Forces.”
Zephyr is capable of providing persistent surveillance over land or sea, and hosting communications links, over the same area for months at a time without landing. The precise purposes for which the UK MoD will use its Zephyrs have not been disclosed.
The aircraft flies slowly, loitering over a selected area under the close guidance of a ground controller to perform its mission.
The earlier variant, the Zephyr 7 HAPS, previously held the world record for 14 days continuous flight set in 2010. The solar powered aircraft charged its batteries from sunlight during the day.
According to Airbus, the latest generation Zephyr 8 has “a wingspan of 25 metres, is 30% lighter and can carry 50% more batteries than its predecessor”.
This Airbus say, enables the aircraft to carry heavier payloads for its surveillance and communications roles. The Zephyr 8 is designed to fly continuously for over a month before landing, being refurbished, and flying again.
As well as for military purposes, Zephyrs can be used for humanitarian missions, precision farming, environmental and security monitoring, and to provide internet coverage to regions of poor or zero connectivity.
The aircraft were construction at Airbus Defence and Space’s Farnborough, UK facility.