Airbus Zephyr breaks record for longest unmanned flight



Airbus has broken the record for the longest flight of an unmanned aircraft, according to flight-tracking data. The solar-powered Airbus Zephyr S (N469TN) beat the record it set in 2018, spending 26 continuous days airborne.

Data shows the aircraft flew from the test area in Arizona to Belize in Central America, and then back again.

The unmanned craft, has on-board batteries to keep it airborne overnight, meaning it does not need to stop to re-supply fuel. It flies high in the atmosphere, to avoid commercial air traffic and adverse weather. 

An Assured Position, Navigation and Timing/Space office of the United States Army Futures Command spokesperson said the latest flight tests are “intended to test the UAV’s energy storage capacity, battery longevity, solar panel efficiency, and station-keeping abilities”.

The aircraft can provide imagery like a satellite, but does not have to orbit, so it can remain in one position and provide continuous updates. Also, unlike satellites, the Zephyr can return to Earth and be upgraded and maintained.

The record flight was completed by the latest model of the solar-powered aircraft, which was originally designed and built in the UK. Zephyr was invented by Chris Kelleher, who died in 2015. Airbus opened the first production facilities for the Zephy in Farnborough three years later, naming them in his honour.

Operators used the aircraft’s flight path to spell out “UK”, along with what might kindly be called a rudimentary image of Stonehenge.