• Airbus Zephyr Solar High Altitude Platform System (HAPS) reaches new heights in its successful 2021 summer test flights. (Airbus)
    Airbus Zephyr Solar High Altitude Platform System (HAPS) reaches new heights in its successful 2021 summer test flights. (Airbus)

The Airbus Zephyr S has completed a successful stratospheric test flight campaign in Arizona, setting a new world record for absolute altitude for this class of UAS at 76,100ft.

The final Airbus solar-powered High Altitude Platform System (HAPS) flight touched down on 13th September in Arizona, USA.

The campaign consisted of six flights in total, four low level test flights and two stratospheric flights.  The stratospheric flights flew for around 18 days each, totaling more than 36 days of stratospheric flight in the campaign. This adds a further 887 flight hours to the 2,435 stratospheric flight hours for Zephyr to date, which Airbus says "marks significant progress for fixed wing HAPS and is a step towards making the stratosphere an operational reality for its customers".

The focus of the flight campaign was to demonstrate how Zephyr could be used for future operations, flying outside of restricted airspace and over airspace shared with commercial air traffic. Carrying an Optical Advanced Earth Observation system for Zephyr (OPAZ) payload, Zephyr proved its operational value to provide 'instant, persistent, and improved situational awareness'.

The Zephyr team is jointly based in Wyndham, Western Australia.

“Working with Airbus and the Zephyr team during the 2021 flight campaign, significant progress has been made towards demonstrating HAPS as a capability," James Gavin, Future Capability Group Head at Defence Equipment & Support, the procurement arm of the UK Ministry of Defence, said. "This summer’s activities represent an important step towards operationalising the stratosphere."

“Credible and proven ultra-persistence, stratospheric agility, and payload interoperability underscore why Zephyr is the leader in its sector," Jana Rosenmann, Head of Unmanned Aerial Systems at Airbus, said. "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.” 

'Carbon Neutral', Zephyr uses sunlight to fly and recharge its batteries, using no fuel and producing no carbon emissions.

With its ability to remain in the stratosphere for months at a time, Zephyr is expected to bring new see, sense and connect capabilities to both commercial and military customers. According to Airbus, Zephyr will provide the potential to revolutionise disaster management, including monitoring the spread of wildfires or oil spills. It provides persistent surveillance, tracing the world’s changing environmental landscape and will be able to provide communications to the most unconnected parts of the world.

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