After 64 days in the skies, across multiple states and countries, breaking records for every second it remained airborne, the Airbus Zephyr S drone has crashed.
The drone apparently fell from the sky, falling hard to the ground in Arizona. That’s according to outlet Simple Flying, which was tracking the drone’s flight over the Yuma Proving Ground and other locations overflown by the Zephyr S. On Friday, August 19, after continuing to fly normally at around 60,000 to 70,000 feet above the ground, it dropped approximately 20,000 feet in altitude, before finally and suddenly plummeting to the ground. Simple Flying reported that data showed he was falling at high speeds, suggesting a destructive end.
The U.S. Army’s Cross-Functional Positioning, Navigation and Synchronization/Space Assured Team, part of Army Future Command, confirmed the flight had ended, but did not say if an accident had occurred.
“After 64 days of stratospheric flight and the achievement of numerous mission objectives, Zephyr experienced circumstances that ended its current flight campaign. No personal injuries have occurred,” said APNT/CFT of the military in a statement to Task & Purpose, “Our teams are currently analyzing over 1,500 hours of stratospheric mission data. This prototype’s valuable ultra-long endurance flight experience has proven to be a positive step towards Army high altitude platform targets Once aircraft recovery and data analysis is completed, more information will be available.
The Airbus Zephyr S was a new high-altitude unmanned aircraft destined for the stratosphere, with a sort of minimalist skeletal design with a 75-foot wingspan that made it incredibly light. It ran on a solar-powered rechargeable battery and the test, launched on June 15, was in part to test both battery capacity and the drone’s overall endurance. By all accounts, it was pretty good. Task & Purpose previously noted its milestone of 47 days at altitude in late July. At the time, the Zephyr S had already broken a previously set flight record of 25 days and 23 hours. And he kept breaking records. The army had said they would keep it in the air as long as possible. As The War Zone reported, the goal of its follow-up flight after this one ended was to fly for 60 days, which the drone exceeded.
The Zephyr even ventured outside the Yuma proving ground, traveling to other states and then through Central America, over the Gulf of Mexico and into Belize. The operators even made him draw patterns above Yuma Proving Ground during his flight. The Zephyr S itself, beyond its high targeted operations altitude, could hold multiple payloads, from cameras and radars to jamming technology.
Task & Purpose has also contacted Airbus about the end of the flight, but as of press time has not heard back.
Previously, the Army APNT/CFT had planned for the Zephyr S to perform another test flight over the Pacific Ocean. It is currently unclear if this is still the case or when such an operation would begin.
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