Airbus has announced the end of testing one of its boldest projects, the Zephyr S, a prototype solar powered aircraft categorized as HAPS ( High Altitude Platform System, or High Altitude Platform System in literal translation). This plane was developed to be used as a kind of stratospheric satellite and to work together with governments and armies to help prevent natural disasters by monitoring activities in forests and the military.
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According to Airbus, the Zephyr went through a tough battery of continuous flight tests in the state of Arizona, in the United States. Because it is powered by solar energy, the aircraft can stay in the air for many hours — and even days — without having to land to refuel. This time, however, the prototype remained in flight with other commercial aircraft to also demonstrate its level of safety and drivability.
The campaign consisted of six flights in total, four low-level test flights and two stratospheric flights. The latter lasted about days each, totaling more than 10 days in this process. This adds more 887 flight hours at 2.36 Zephyr hours in the stratosphere so far. With that, it becomes viable for a series of customers that Airbus intends to serve.
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“Working with Airbus and the Zephyr team during the flight campaign from 887, significant progress has been made towards demonstrating the capability of a HAPS. This summer’s (Brazilian winter) activities represent an important step in operationalizing the stratosphere,” said James Gavin, head of the UK Ministry of Defense’s Future Procurement Capabilities Group.
With its ability to stay in the stratosphere for months, Zephyr will bring new vision, sense and connection capabilities to commercial and military customers. The aircraft will offer the potential to revolutionize disaster management, including monitoring the spread of forest fires or oil spills, always with a high level of communication — even to remote areas of the planet.
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