An unmanned solar-powered aircraft has hit a record height of 76,100ft (23.2km) during test flights
The Airbus Zephyr S prototype set the world record for its class during 36 days of stratospheric flight over the summer, across two flights lasting about 18 days each. The last test flight of the High-Altitude Platform System (Haps) touched down on 13 September in Arizona.
The programme aimed to demonstrate how Zephyr could be used for future operations, flying outside of restricted airspace and over airspace shared with commercial air traffic. The 25m-wingspan aircraft carried an advanced optical Earth observation system during the tests, which also included four low-level test flights.
“With its ability to remain in the stratosphere for months at a time, Zephyr will bring new ‘see, sense and connect’ capabilities to both commercial and military customers,” an Airbus announcement said. “Zephyr will provide the potential to revolutionise disaster management, including monitoring the spread of wildfires or oil spills. It provides persistent surveillance, tracing the world’s changing environmental landscape, and will be able to provide communications to the most unconnected parts of the world.”
The Ministry of Defence is working with Airbus on the Zephyr project. “Defence investment in cutting edge technology is key to the development of world-leading military capabilities,” said major general Rob Anderton-Brown, director of capability at Strategic Command.
“Zephyr is an important programme within UK Strategic Command and the recent successful flight has required many innovative technical solutions. This represents a significant milestone for Zephyr, which is informing the development of new concepts and ways of enabling military operations, particularly in the context of multi-domain integration.”
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