The Zephyr aircraft completed its test flight campaign on September 13th. (Image Credit: Airbus)
Airbus successfully few the Zephyr on a 2021 test flight campaign and says the aircraft could soon stay in the air for six months. The solar-powered plane, which features two small propellers and looks a lot like an unmanned glider, had two test flights in the stratosphere. Airbus also has high hopes for this aircraft: to provide internet service to billions of people around the world.
The campaign involved six flights, two of which were based in the stratosphere, while the other four were low-level test flights. Overall, the stratospheric flights flew for 18 days each, totaling over 36 flight days in the stratosphere. This adds another 887 flight hours to the 2,435 stratospheric flight hours for Zephyr. Rather than fuel, the aircraft relies on sunlight to fly and recharge its batteries, producing zero emissions.
“Credible and proven ultra-persistence, stratospheric agility, and payload interoperability underscore why Zephyr is the leader in its sector. It is a sustainable, solar-powered, ISR and network extending solution that can provide vital future connectivity and earth observation to where it is needed,” said Jana Rosenmann, Head of Unmanned Aerial Systems at Airbus.
The team behind the aircraft says the batteries have performed very well, and they think it can operate for three months. Although it hasn’t operated under such a timeline yet, the team also says that reaching six months isn’t out of the question.
Zephyr, a solar-powered aircraft, could stay in the air for six months and provide internet connectivity for those who are unconnected. (Image Credit: Airbus)
Zephyr has huge potential to reach people around the world, offering internet connectivity to those who otherwise don’t have it in their homes. In 2020, a UNICEF report revealed that two-thirds of children around the world don’t have an internet connection at home. Such a limitation prevents them from competing in the economy while making them isolated.
Additionally, the Zephyr aircraft could present applications for the military. The second 18-day flight was performed for the UK’s Ministry of Defence, one of Airbus’ customers. The MoD, referencing the aircraft as High Altitude Pseudo Satellites (HAPS), said that the aircraft could gather constant, reliable data over vast geographical locations at a greater level of detail than ever before. It can also be used to monitor oil spills and wildfires.
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