[Avionics Today 10-01-2014] The solar-powered Zephyr Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) has completed a flight at more than 61,000 feet above the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The Dubai Civil Aviation Authority (DCAA) approved the flight test, which was conducted jointly between Airbus
Defence and Space with the Emirates Institution for Advanced Science and Technology (EIAST). Airbus
Defence and Space said this was the first flight of the Zephyr authorized by a civil aviation authority.
Airbus Zephyr. Photo: Airbus Defence and Space.
The Zephyr, a solar-powered UAS originally designed by U.K. aerospace and defense manufacturer QinetiQ, is now part of the Airbus Zephyr program. Airbus Defence and Space is developing the unmanned aircraft as the Airbus Zephyr High Altitude Pseudo-Satellite (HAPS) for the distribution of satellite-like communications and Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance operations. During the flight, the Zephyr HAPS broke two UAE civil aviation records, achieving the highest altitude at 61,696 feet and the longest flight ever recorded by any aircraft within the region.
“The flight in Dubai demonstrated the ability of Zephyr to operate in regions of the world’s most crowded airspaces,” said Chris Kelleher, technical director of the Airbus HAPS program. "With all systems working well in temperatures ranging between 40 degrees Celsius and minus 80 degrees Celsius and up to a maximum altitude of 61,696 ft., this flight further reinforces confidence in Zephyr for users and regulators."
The civil flight marks the latest achievement of the Airbus Zephyr program, after HAPS engineers recently completed an 11-day, non-stop flight with the aircraft. The aircraft flies by day operating on solar power delivered by amorphous silicon solar arrays that cover the wings. These are used to recharge the Zephyr's lithium-sulphur batteries, which are then used to power the aircraft by night.
Some of the civil applications that Airbus is looking at using the Zephyr for include resource management, environmental monitoring and support to emergency services, according to Jens Federhen, head of the Airbus HAPS program.
"With the support of the Dubai CAA, EIAST has shown, for the first time anywhere, that such operations can be undertaken in the civil domain," he added.
Airbus and EIAST are looking to perform similar flight tests in the future to demonstrate the ability of the Zephyr to operate in airspace near manned aircraft performing civil and commercial applications.