FARNBOROUGH, England -- A new high-altitude, solar-powered unmanned aerial vehicle unveiled by Airbus during the Farnborough International Airshow is intended to fill a gap complimentary to satellites.
The Zephyr S, called a "high altitude pseudo-satellite" (HAPS) by the company's Defence and Space arm, is a production model that follows a number of Zephyr research and development prototypes.
The units are designed to run exclusively on solar power at altitudes above weather and other air traffic, giving the UAVs the ability to provide affordable and persistent services currently provided by satellites.
"The Zephyr S aircraft is demonstrably years ahead of any other comparable system and I am beyond proud of the Airbus team for their unrivalled success," said Dirk Hoke, CEO of Airbus Defence and Space. "Today, we have created a new future for stratospheric flight."
The reveal at Farnborough comes with the news that the first-of-three Zephyr S units ordered by the British Ministry of Defence is currently in the midst of a 10-day test flight above Arizona.
The UAV is reported to have reached an altitude up to 74,000 feet while carrying an 11-pound payload.
"Zephyr will bring new see, sense and connect capabilities to both military and commercial customers," said Sophie Thomas, head of the Zephyr program. "Zephyr will provide the potential to revolutionize disaster management, including monitoring the spread of wildfires or oil spills. It provides persistent surveillance, tracing the world's changing landscape and will be able to provide communications to the most unconnected parts of the world."
Airbus said it will be flying Zephyr S from a new operating site at Wyndham Airport in Western Australia, with operations expected to begin in September.