The first production model of the Zephyr S HAPS (High Altitude Pseudo-Satellite), a solar-powered UAV that flies at very high altitude and performs satellite missions, has left the factory floor in Farnborough and is making its maiden flight, Airbus announced on Wednesday.
The first production unit of the program, manufactured at Airbus Defense and Space’s newest production facility in Farnborough (UK), was launched on July 11 in Arizona, USA.
“Today represents a significant milestone in the Zephyr programme,” Dirk Hoke, CEO of Airbus Defence and Space said from the Kelleher facility, which is named after the late Chris Kelleher, the original inventor of Zephyr.
“The facility is home to the world’s leading High-Altitude Pseudo Satellite and will be a showcase location, linking to our operational flight bases around the world. The Zephyr S aircraft is demonstrably years ahead of any other comparable system and I am beyond proud of the Airbus team for their unrivalled success. Today we have created a new future for stratospheric flight.”
The aircraft has a wingspan of 25 meters and a weight of 75 kg, completely covered with solar panels, and can fly up to an altitude of 70,000 feet (21 km), over bad weather and classic air traffic, says Airbus Defense and Space who presented it at the Farnborough Air Show.
“The only civil aircraft that used to fly at this altitude was Concorde and only the famous military U2 and SR-71 Blackbird could operate at similar levels,” said Airbus in a press release.
Its longest flight so far, without refueling, has been more than two weeks. Eventually it should be able to stay for three months in the stratosphere before being repatriated with a descent phase that can last up to 30 hours.
This pseudo satelllite – neither plane nor satellite – has “the endurance of a satellite and the flexibility of a drone”, Jana Rosenmann, director of the Airbus UAV division told AFP.
“Zephyr will bring new see, sense and connect capabilities to both military and commercial customers. 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,” said Sophie Thomas, Head of the Zephyr programme at Airbus.
Featuring state-of-the-art battery technology that stores energy during the day to power the device at night, Airbus intend to make 7 of the HAPS aircraft in 2018 and 7 more in 2019, according to Rosenmann.
This reusable aircraft is intended for military applications – it is the Defense Force Defense & Defense Department’s first client – but also civilian in the areas of maritime safety, surveillance, pollution control, border control, fire fighting, secure digital radiocommunications or Internet connectivity, according to Airbus.
Airbus says it works closely with regulators around the world, in the absence of international regulations for unmanned aerial systems.