Airbus’ Zephyr ultra-light solar-electric drone crashed on August 19 after 64 days of non-stop flight, according to website Simple Flying, which specializes in aviation issues. Airbus has not yet confirmed the information.
Ground controllers reportedly lost contact with the experimental aircraft as it flew over the Arizona desert between Phoenix and Mexicali on the Mexico border.
Simple Flying reports that the Zephyr was at an altitude of 45,000 to 50,000 feet and had just completed an S-shaped maneuver when it began to descend rapidly at over 1.38 km (4,544 feet) per minute before touching the ground .
The solar-powered UAV was airborne for several weeks. On July 15, it had already set a new flight record for a solar-electric drone, reportedly staying in flight for more than 30 days The Guinness Book of Records. He took off from a military base in Yuma, Arizona on June 15. The Zephyr has achieved flights of 76,100 feet, another world record for an electric drone.
Spy plane and cell tower
The Zephyr has a wingspan of 25 meters (82 feet) and weighs less than 75 kilograms (165 pounds). It flies at over 70,000 feet (21 km) into the stratosphere, almost twice the height of an ordinary jet aircraft.
The drone flies high into the stratosphere and stays above terrestrial weather disturbances. Its mylar and carbon fiber wings are covered in solar panels that continuously absorb light throughout the day and provide enough energy to power its electric motors day and night.
The Zephyr is designed to perform a wide range of civilian and military missions performed by satellites: terrestrial and maritime surveillance, reconnaissance, navigation, environmental monitoring and communications at an affordable cost. That is why Airbus speaks of a HAPS (High-Altitude Pseudo-Satellite).
At its highest altitude, a single Zephyr can provide 250 cell tower coverage and be used to improve communications in the most remote areas of the world.
The longest flight in history
The Zephyr was just hours away from breaking the record for the longest flight in history, dating back 63 years. From December 1958 to February 1959, Bob Timm and John Cook flew 64 days, 22 hours and 19 minutes aboard a small Cessna 172 Skyhawk.
In-flight refueling was carried out through a lowered hose from the aircraft to a truck traveling at the same speed on a straight road. Three minutes was enough, twice a day, to fill the tank. A cable also provided the crew with drinks, food and other supplies such as towels and water for shaving and washing.