Airbus’ Solar Powered Zephyr Drone Just Crashed – After A Record 64-Day Flight

Airbus’ high-altitude solar-powered uncrewed drone, Zephyr S was airborne for over two months. It crashed in Arizona on August 19th; Simple Flying has reported.

The aerial transport industry is looking for ways to adopt greener energy sources. Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) and hydrogen fuel cells are logical solutions that could positively impact long-haul transport. The solar-powered flight is yet another option that is being explored.

Airbus is using the renewable and most abundant form of energy to power long-duration flights with its Zephyr range of planes.

The Zephyr is a High-Altitude Platform Station (HAPS) that can fly in the stratosphere at around 70,000 feet (21 km), almost twice that of regular jet-engine powered aircraft.

The aircraft has 82 feet (25 m) wingspan but weighs under 165 pounds (75 kg). According to its website, it can be used to capture imagery or radar or automatic identification systems for military, institutional or commercial uses. At its highest altitude, a single Zephyr can provide the coverage equivalent of 250 cell towers and could be used to improve connectivity in the most distant parts of the world.

Since the aircraft is powered by solar energy alone, it can stay in the air for a long time. Earlier, the Airbus team has flown the Zephyr continuously for over two weeks on multiple occasions. This time around, the Zephyr was airborne for 64 days when it crashed.

The latest iteration of the aircraft, called Zephyr 8, was now close to breaking the record for the longest recorded flight, which is held by a Cessna 172 Skyhawk flight that took place 63 years ago. Called Hacienda flight, the Cessna had remained airborne for 64 days and 22 hours.

Zephyr’s flight, although unmanned, could have broken this record too. But something went wrong on the flight on August 19th. Simple Flying tracked the publicly available data about the flight from the ADS-B Exchange, the same database that allows a teenager to track Elon Musk’s jet.

Flying under the callsign of ZULU82, the Zephyr 8 was at a relatively lower height of 45,000-50,000 feet (13-15 km) on August 19th over the Arizona desert. It had completed an S-shaped maneuver at 50-60 knots when something went wrong, and the aircraft began descending rapidly. At one point, the aircraft’s descent speed exceeded 4,544 feet (1.38 km) per minute.

The team at Airbus is now going through over 1,500 hours of data that the aircraft spent in the stratosphere to plan its next mission.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *