Airbus’ Zephyr S drone was just hours away from breaking a flight time record

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Airbus’ Zephyr S drone was just hours away from breaking a flight time record

the Zephyr Sit is an experimental high-altitude drone built by Airbus. The device is currently being tested in conjunction with United States Army. On Friday August 19, the Zephyr S landed after remaining 64 days in the air. The drone broke many records such as the longest continuous flight by an aircraft without a passenger with a total of 64 days, 18 hours and 26 minutes. Unfortunately, the Zephyr S landed with a few hours left to break the record for the longest continuous flight by a flying device.

The end of the Zephyr S flight was detected by aircraft spotters using the free online software ADSB Exchange. On the day the flight ended, the drone was circling the Yuma Test Range in Arizona when it suddenly began to descend vertically at a speed of 1,385 meters per minute. It is unknown what happened to the aircraft when it hit the ground, but it is assumed that it crashed.

Zephyr S
Credits Airbus/Christian Otto

If the Zephyr S had lasted a few more hours, it would have beaten the record set between December 4, 1958 and February 7, 1959 by two men aboard a Cessna 172 Skyhawk. This flight took place over Las Vegas and lasted 64 days, 22 hours and 19 minutes.

What we know about the descent of the Zephyr S

So far, neither Airbus nor the United States Army has made an official statement regarding the downing of the Zephyr S. A representative of the company, however, indicated that despite the many objectives achieved, the aircraft “cope with to circumstances which stopped his flight. He also said no one was hurt during the landing.

In the press release, we can also read that the Airbus teams are currently in the process of analyze more than 1500 hours of data from the stratospheric mission. The experience gained during the prototype’s ultra-long endurance flight would also be a positive step towards the Army’s high-altitude platform goals.

A high altitude drone

The Zephyr S is part of a category of flying devices called “High altitude platform station”. These devices are also called “pseudo-satellites”. Aircraft of this type are designed to be able to stay in the air for long periods at altitudes up to 21,336 m.

As for the Airbus aircraft, it is made of lightweight carbon fiber composites and weighs 75 kg. It fully uses sunlight to recharge its batteries.

The characteristics of the Zephyr S allow it to stay above a predefined zone for long periods. The device can thus perform surveillance missions. It can observe an area on the ground measuring 20 by 30 km.

Apart from its role in security, the Zephyr S can also be used as communication relay between ground stations that cannot be directly connected. It can also extend existing networks.


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