Aerospace giant Airbus has chosen a remote outback airport in Western Australia as the first location from which to operate its Zephyr HAPS unmanned aerial system.
Located in the Kimberly region of far north Western Australia, the site will be used by Airbus to launch and recover the cutting edge high-altitude solar-powered drones.
Made of lightweight composites and powered by solar cells , the Zephyr HAPS can fly above commercial airspace at 65,000 feet (20km) for months at a time. The UAV is classed as a High Altitude Pseudo Satellite, and currently holds the record for uninterrupted solar flight.
Once launched from Wyndham airport, the Zephyr HAPS will provide a range of earth observation services and communications connectivity for people in remote areas, including for civil, military or humanitarian purposes.
The announcement was made by Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan this week, who says the choice will be a boon for the remote area.
“This is a major coup for Western Australia,” he said.
“Our local economy will benefit from this decision, with up to 20 Airbus staff also earmarked to be based in the local area during operational phases.
“I am optimistic that early success of the project will lead to expanded job opportunities in the east Kimberley and elsewhere in Western Australia.”
McGowan said his government had been working with Airbus since February this year to help implement the Airbus Defence and Space’s HAPS program at Wyndham Airport.
“The choice of Wyndham due to the largely unrestricted airspace and reliable weather, together with the strong support provided by the Western Australian Government, provides both a job creation opportunity in the east Kimberley and a technology advancement opportunity for Western Australia, and Australia, more generally,” he said.
Airbus will commence Zephyr HAPS flights in the second half of 2018, with “long-term” testing to be conducted with no set end date for the project, the company said.