FARNBOROUGH — Defense & Space expects its Zephyr high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) remotely piloted airplane to break the world endurance record it set in July 2010 at Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona, when it flew for more than two weeks - or 336 hours, 22 min.
The company is expecting to launch the aircraft on a longer-endurance flight within the next month. The firm is unable to confirm the customer the flight is being carried out for, the nature of the payload the aircraft will be carrying, or where the test will take place. But the flight is expected to exceed the existing record, possibly by a considerable margin.
An eighth iteration of the aircraft – originally developed by, from whom Airbus acquired the entire program team in March 2013 – is under construction in Farnborough. Zephyr 8 will have a 28-meter wingspan, while the Zephyr 7 is 23 meters; the 8 will have a maximum weight, including payload, of 60 kg (130 lb.), versus the 7’s 55 kg. The upcoming flight will be made by the Zephyr 7.
Zephyr 8 enhancements include new batteries that Airbus hopes will eliminate the need for the aircraft to lose altitude at night. Development has focused on balancing the improved performance offered by the longer wingspan – and the increased surface area it provides for solar panels – with the increased weight.
Since Airbus bought it, Zephyr has been repositioned as a gap-filler between high-altitude aircraft and satellites. The 8 will offer a wider range of potential payloads, with applications ranging from classified military or security missions to civilian environmental monitoring roles.
Aviation Week’s ShowNews understands that Airbus is close to being able to announce a contract with at least one customer. A key selling point has been the aircraft’s unsurpassed "green" credentials. It consumes no fossil fuels, emits no pollutants and makes no noise.