Airbus moves Zephyr flight testing to Australia

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Airbus Defence has officially opened the operating base for its Zephyr drone in Wyndham, Western Australia.

The high-altitude pseudo satellite (HAPS), the development of which was originally started by UK-based defense firm Qinetiq in 2003, has been moved to Australia after being flight tested in Arizona, USA, where during August it logged a maiden flight of 26 days, the longest duration un-refuelled flight ever made.

The Wyndham-site in Western Australia has been chosen for its base because of its unrestricted airspace and reliable weather, said Airbus.

The Zephyr HAPS operates in the stratosphere at an average altitude of 70,000ft above weather and air traffic. The drone has a wingspan of 25m (82ft) and weighs 75kg.

Flight testing of the Zephyr during the coming months will focus on trialling the drone with different payloads, said Airbus.

The company plans for the re-usable, solar-powered aircraft to provide local or regional “persistence” to customers in defense and government. When equipped with communications and cameras it could be used in applications such as surveillance and services, border patrol missions, communications, forest fire detection and monitoring, and navigation.

Jana Rosenmann, head of unmanned aerial systems at Airbus, said, “The opening of the Airbus Wyndham launch site in Western Australia, the world’s first operational HAPS site, marks the start of a new era for Zephyr.

“We are proud to see Australia become part of the Zephyr operational network. The site is our gateway to the stratosphere and will be the main flight base for Zephyr going forward.”

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Ben has worked all of his career as a journalist and now editor, covering almost all aspects of technology, engineering and industry. In the last 16 years he has written on subjects from nuclear submarines and autonomous cars to future design and manufacturing technologies and commercial aviation. Latterly editor of a leading engineering magazine, he brings an eye for a great story and lots of experience to the team.

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