The Wings of the Sun

2 min

An unmanned, solar-powered aircraft recently broke the record for the world's longest continuous flight.

On its maiden outing, the Zephyr S – built by Airbus – was airborne for 25 days, 23 hours, and 57 minutes after taking off from Arizona on July 11. It broke the record set by an earlier prototype by eleven days. 

The Zephyr S, which is fully controlled from the ground, typically flies for days or weeks at a time without landing, operating at an altitude of more than 65,000ft – above weather systems and far above commercial aircraft. It has a 25m wingspan and weighs less than 75kg, manufactured from hair thin fibres, but can support up to five times its own weight. It operates by charging its batteries from sunlight in the stratosphere during the day and can fly overnight with the solar energy stored in secondary batteries.

As well as for defence purposes, Zephyrs can be used for humanitarian missions, precision farming guidance, environmental and security monitoring (including disaster management for impactful seasonal events like bushfires), and to provide internet coverage to regions where connectivity is poor or non-existent. 

In exciting domestic news, Airbus has made the decision to base this technological marvel at Wyndham airfield in Western Australia. This will become the world’s first operational site for the launch and recovery of this class of unmanned aircraft which are categorised as High Altitude Pseudo Satellites (HAPS). 

Airbus will commence flights of the Zephyr at Wyndham in the second half of 2018. 

Tony Fraser, Managing Director of Airbus Australia Pacific, expressed his gratitude to the region and the state government for their support in a recent media release, “The combination of that support, largely unrestricted airspace and reliable weather make Wyndham an ideal location for these operations.” The decision to endorse such an innovative technology project was a no brainer for the WA government.

Australia more widely, with its accommodating climate conditions, is fast proving itself to be the ideal partner and host for boundary pushing new energy technology.

For more interesting stories about technological advances in the energy industry check out our Innovation & Tech section. 


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