In the arena of advanced aerospace innovation, BAE Systems has unveiled the remarkable Phasa-35, a spy aircraft so ethereal it seems straight out of science fiction. This marvel of engineering recently achieved a critical milestone in high-altitude flight testing. Phasa-35 is not your typical aircraft; it’s a feather-light, solar-powered sentinel designed to linger in the heavens for extended periods.
With a wingspan stretching an impressive 115 feet (35 meters), Phasa-35 is a study in delicacy and strength. Its slender frame, crafted from “pencil-thin” carbon fiber, weighs a mere 331 pounds (150 kilograms). What’s more, it lacks conventional landing gear, taking off using a disposable carriage and executing graceful belly landings on twin-engine pods when mission objectives are met. The efficiency of this design is astonishing.
The aircraft’s successful test flight in July 2023 took place in New Mexico, a locale blessed with the perfect climate for high-altitude trials. Here, Phasa-35 aimed to reach a breathtaking altitude of 66,000 feet (20,112 meters), soaring twice as high as typical commercial aircraft. New Mexico’s relatively calm high-altitude winds provided an ideal canvas for Phasa-35’s flight test, preventing potential perturbations.
Phasa-35 gradually ascends to its high-altitude destinations, gliding at a leisurely 55 mph (89 kph). This unhurried pace ensures stability and enables the aircraft to effectively linger over specific locations, gathering intelligence and monitoring communications, even in the face of strong winds.
Phasa-35 represents a pioneering leap in aerospace technology, offering an alternative to conventional satellites and conventionally powered aircraft. BAE Systems’ subsidiary, Prismatic Ltd., designed this solar-electric High Altitude Pseudo-Satellite (HAPS) Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) is a versatile and cost-effective solution for long-duration imaging and communication services.
Military strategists in the United States and the United Kingdom actively explore the potential of HAPS like Phasa-35. In the UK, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has initiated “Project Aether,” which includes trials involving high-altitude balloons and solar-powered aircraft for pseudo-satellite missions.
By equipping Phasa-35 and similar HAPS with compact cameras and sensors, extensive surveillance missions have become a reality. These missions offer invaluable insights into activities on the ground, precise weather tracking, and more. During Phasa-35 trials, a sophisticated laser sensing system effectively tracked weather conditions and wind velocity, ensuring the aircraft’s safe navigation through turbulent weather.
Phil Varty, the head of business development for Phasa-35 at BAE Systems, underscores the unique capability of loitering pseudo-satellites to remain virtually stationary, mimicking the function of geostationary satellites. This attribute appeals to military and commercial clients alike, facilitating continuous observation of specific areas and enabling advanced applications, such as providing internet connectivity in remote regions.
BAE Systems is now poised to elevate Phasa-35’s capabilities further, with plans to manufacture four additional aircraft at its Alton facility in Hampshire, England.