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Avalon 2019: Zephyr ‘pseudo satellite' to seek new world endurance record

Airbus Defence and Space (DS) hopes to set a new world record later this year, with its revolutionary Zephyr ‘pseudo satellite’ unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) seeking to stay aloft for 100 days without refuelling.

A model of the Zephyr HAPS pseudo satellite at the Avalon 2019 event. (Julian Kerr)

A model of the Zephyr HAPS pseudo satellite at the Avalon 2019 event. (Julian Kerr)

The previous longest duration flight of 25 days 23 hours was logged by a Zephyr S over Arizona in August 2018.

Nigel Chandler, head of Zephyr sales, said at the Avalon Airshow near Melbourne on 28 February that the flight would be operated from the Zephyr’s primary flight test centre at Wyndham in Western Australia “where every day is a good-weather day”.

“We’re going for 100 days, we’re absolutely confident of the aircraft’s ability to achieve this,” Chandler said, standing beside a full-scale model.

Running exclusively on solar power and weighing only 75 kg despite its 25 m wingspan, the Zephyr is designed to operate at an altitude of up to 70,000 ft, above the weather and other air traffic, maintaining its position over a geographic location.

Potential payloads include an over-the-horizon communications relay for line-of-sight communications and high-definition optical/infrared video.

The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has acquired three of the type to enhance the country’s airborne intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities. Information on when they will be delivered and where they will be based has not been disclosed. Several other countries have expressed interest in the aircraft’s military applications, Chandler said.

A number of Zephyrs are based at Wyndham, and Chandler said the primary focus of the current flight programme was on shorter flights carrying diverse payloads of up to 5 kg.

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