Military Embedded Systems

Army's solar-powered UAS marks end of marathon flight experiment


August 24, 2022

Lisa Daigle

Assistant Managing Editor

Military Embedded Systems

Image courtesy Airbus

REDSTONE ARSENAL -- HUNTSVILLE, Ala. The U.S. Army Assured Positioning, Navigation and Timing/Space (APNT/Space) Cross-Functional Team (CFT) reported that its stratospheric flight demonstration using the solar-powered Airbus Zephyr 8 ultra-long-endurance solar-powered unmanned aircraft system (UAS) ended after 64 days, with the Zephyr remaining aloft for more than double its intended 30-day continuous flight.

The ultra-long-endurance Zephyr took off from the U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground (YPG) on June 15, 2022, ascending to the over 60,000 feet into the stratosphere before executing its flight plan over the southern U.S., into the Gulf of Mexico, and over South America. It returned to airspace over YPG so that the team could conduct multiple assessments. 

Upon takeoff on June 15, the Army team had hoped that the solar-powered UAS would remain aloft for 30 days, beating the previous record of 26 days; the Zephyr instead kept going for 64 straight days, ending its flight on August 18 when the UAS encountered events that led to its unexpected termination -- also known as a crash landing -- over YPG. According to the Army, these events are under investigation, no injuries or risk to personnel or other aircraft resulted from the grounding of the craft, and further information will be released following an investigation.

The Army detailed a number of "firsts" for the Zephyr 8 UAS, including its departure from U.S. airspace, flight over water, flight in international airspace, data collection and direct downlink while outside of U.S. airspace, the longest continuous duration (seven days) using satellite communications, and the demonstration of resilient satellite command and control from three different locations: Huntsville, Alabama; Yuma, Arizona; and Farnborough, U.K.

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